Zip It! – Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette and Crumbled Goat Cheese

So the good news is that I have broken my mother’s cycle.  See, I was rarely allowed in the kitchen as a kid because my mom didn’t like to clean up the mess that she knew would result from my cooking or baking forays.  I let my kids in the kitchen as much and as frequently as they want.  In this little slice of my life, I can proudly proclaim, “I am not my mother.”

The not so good news is that I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut while my kiddos are cooking.  Let them dice a tomato with a steak knife?  Nope.  I CAN NOT do it.  Beat cookie dough with a wire whisk? Makes me crazy.  Remove cookies from the baking sheet with a rubber spatula?  Are they trying to drive me to the brink?  This past week, three of the four have been in the kitchen A LOT.  Let’s just say there have been numerous “discussions”, heated discussions . . .  ok, let’s call a spade a spade -tirades- about certain kitchen practices.

The thing is, I love it that my progeny like to cook.  I am proud of the fact that they are so tuned in to healthy eating practices.  I grin when the 4 year old reminds me not to buy the Asian yogurt because it has Stevia in it instead of real sugar.  I adore the looks on their proud little mugs when they serve their creations around the family table.  So why, oh why, can’t I just zip it and let them navigate the kitchen on their own?

Call it bossiness.  Call it intolerance.  Call it a downright character flaw.  It’s all of that and so much more.  But it’s also like so many of these challenges in parenting.  Seems we mama types are always walking the beam and trying to balance between guiding, directing and instructing and just letting them explore and figure things out on their own.  So on I trudge with the good fight. I try to bite my tongue, zip it, put a sock in it when necessary, and correct without losing it when possible.  I have found that some dishes lend themselves to less correction and conflict than others.  This little Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette and Crumbled Goat Cheese is just one of those.

We start with some nice red beets.  These ones just happen to have come in our box of all organic and local produce which we have delivered every week by Abundant Harvest Organics.

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The kiddos trim the leafy stems (which are great for adding into smoothies by the way) and the pointed root ends.  Then they wrap the bulb of each beet with aluminum foil. You see where I’m going here, right, not much room for variation in the execution of this cooking adventure.

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They preheat the oven to 425 and place the foil wrapped beets directly onto the oven rack.  It takes 45 minutes to an hour to roast depending on the size of the beets.  When they are soft and easily pierced by a fork, they are done.

After they have cooled a bit, the kiddos remove the skin from the beets.  The skin falls away really easily, but the hands can get pretty stained on this step.  Possibility of kid correction — 70% depending on parental tolerance for messes and staining.

At this point, the beets can be sliced, garnished and served immediately (sometimes I love a warm beet salad and other times I’m looking for something slightly chilled and refreshing), or just sliced, packaged up, and refrigerated and saved for serving later.  In our case we refrigerated about a day and served up for the following night’s dinner.

To serve, we just arranged them on a platter, drizzled with some homemade vinaigrette, and topped with goat cheese and fresh herbs.  Simple, straightforward, and a wonderful first course!

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So go forth, Mama friends, spread those arms and walk that balance beam.  Let those kiddos in the kitchen and let them spread their little culinary wings.  But do me a favor, and if you see them trying to separate an egg using a measuring cup,  slap them (humor)  – – – I mean give them a little lesson and direction.

 

 

Every Journey Begins with One Step – Orzo with Everything

orzo finalA wise woman (Jen Hatmaker), recently wrote, “We don’t think our way into a new life; we live our way into a new kind of thinking.”  I read that today while getting a pedicure (yes, the planets all aligned, babies slept, toddlers napped, older children read, and the Hubs was working from home, so I grabbed my purse and made a dash for it, before anyone could “need” anything else).

Now the wise author’s reference  was to a story about our hearts and where we store our treasures.  Some of you may be familiar with that one – wink.  But I found myself thinking about how much that saying applies to what we eat.  What if we rephrased it this way – – – we don’t think our way into new eating habits; we eat our way into new thoughts about food.  Make sense?  It totally rings true to me.

If you had told me even 2 years ago that I would be eating flexitarian (mainly vegetarian with a little meat thrown in here and there, because who can live without bacon???), avoiding processed foods,making my own bread, and growing our own little backyard garden, I would have looked at you with that weird scrunched up mouth and one raised eyebrow look.  You know, the look accompanied by “Whaaaaaaaat?”  But we started, eating differently bit by bit.  First the no read meat.  Then the no chicken.  Then the slight avoidance of processed foods.  Then the major avoidance of processed foods, and so on.  And here we are.  I now steer the boat known as my kitchen in a totally different way because I have totally NEW THOUGHTS about food.

When I started this blog, one of the only things I knew I DIDN’T want to do was to be prescriptive.  Just because something works for me and my family doesn’t mean it’s something that will work for everyone else.  But I have had a lot of people ask me how they can transition to eating more real foods and eliminating the processed stuff.  So here’s the short list, folks.  Some simple steps  that I took and that might help you too.

1) Go through the effort of cleaning out what you already have in your kitchen.  Eliminate the processed stuff and give yourself a clean slate.  If you go through the time, effort, and expense of getting rid of the foods you don’t want to eat, it will be that much harder to justify buying more of it.

2) Get a clear idea of what it is you DO want to eat.  Real Food is food that is as close to its natural state as possible. It’s not produced in a factory or engineered in a lab.  The sad truth is that 70% of the “food” available for sale at your grocery store isn’t really food at all.  So in order to eat real food, you’re probably going to have to shop differently. Probably the best definition of real food that I have come across is right here.

3) Decide to shop differently.  First of all, if you are going to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, you will more than likely need to shop more frequently.  This way of shopping is pretty standard for most Europeans.  They have bi-weekly markets (like our farmers’ markets) in most towns and villages and so stock up on fresh produce twice a week.  Decide to do the same.  Choose two days (Wednesday and Saturday, for example) when you will shop for fresh produce.  Make a plan to have one fresh  fruit and one vegetable with every meal you consume.  That leads us nicely into suggestion #4.

4) Take a piece of paper and a pencil, yes, I said a piece of paper and a pencil, and make a 5 day meal plan.  No don’t faint.  Stick with me now.  It’s not as hard as it sounds.  For Monday through Friday, decide on a protein you will eat, a vegetable you will eat, and a fruit you will eat at each meal.  You can also throw in whole grains if you’re feeling ambitious.  Now take that paper and walk over to your refrigerator and stick it on the front.

5)  Try it.  If you purge (1), understand (2), plan (3), and shop (4), the only thing you have left to do is give it a try.  What do you have to lose?  I have found that this is totally an incremental transition.  It’s not like going cold turkey overnight. You will slip back into some old habits, but hopefully you will acquire more new ones.  Me, for example, I have made a lot of progress in the area of meals.  On-the-go snacks?  Not so much.  So while I aspire to become that mom who makes her own fruit leather, for now I still throw the occasional baggie of goldfish in my purse on my way out the door.  I’m a work in progress.

I bet that if you were to give these five steps a try for just one week, you could start the incremental process of eating differently.  If it’s something you think you may try, I would love to hear about your experience.  In the meantime, let’s talk salads . . . specifically a little orzo number that has been in my repertoire for years.

Super simple, I started by cooking up about a cup and a half of orzo (rice shaped pasta).  After I had drained it, I added to it some sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

orzo sdt

I let that sit until it was completely cooled.  Then I added in one head of chopped radicchio and a big bunch of basil.

orzo radicchio

In a dry skillet, I toasted some pine nuts.

orzo pine nuts

I tossed the pine nuts, along with some freshly grated parmesan and minced garlic into the orzo.

orzo parm

I gave that all a good stir and called it a wrap – not that kind of wrap, silly!  I like to let this one sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving because I just find that it allows the flavors to blend better.

orzo final

Here’s the complete recipe for Orzo with Everything.

Oh, and if you decide to try a baby step toward eating real food, good luck to you.  I would love to hear about your journey.

Stuck on Summer Simple – Watermelon, Tomato, Basil & Feta Salad

I’m simply stuck on simple.  No other words for it.

This past weekend I was on a mission for short preparation and refreshing results.  Maybe it’s because my weekend consisted of six (yes, 6) water polo games and a swim meet.  Guess you could say I’m water logged.

Oh, and genius me, decided to join the book club with the gals studying Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7.  Her first chapter is about food.   In her actual “experiment”, she decided on only seven foods to nourish her body (and soul) for an entire month.  Our book club is covering her seven areas of excess (food, clothing, media, spending, possessions, waste, & stress) at the rate of one per week.  I decided that choosing seven foods for a week wouldn’t be that tough for me.  Instead, I decided to GIVE UP seven things for this week.   One of those things was Eating Out.  Now I don’t know about you, but a 6 water polo game 1 swim meet kind of weekend screams CHIIIIIIIIIPOTLE.  But no, my brilliant book club experiment had me planning and preparing meals as I was dashing out the door with towels and tents and lego bins in tow.  My little brood is just lucky they didn’t end up with sunscreen in place of sour cream on this weekend’s consumables.

So amidst all the water sport chaos, I did manage to pull off a very simple salad that I think is worth sharing.  I had half of a small water melon left that I needed to finish off.  I cut it into bite-sized cubes and then tossed with some halved cherry tomatoes.  I dressed that watermelon tomato mixture with a little dressing made out of simple olive oil and red wine vinegar.  I lined a platter with chopped romaine and then mounded the tomato-watermelon mixture on top.  I finished things off with feta cheese, slivered almonds, and fresh chopped basil. So easy.

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Hope you all had a relaxing weekend.  Next week on my 7 agenda is clothing.  Fortunately, we’ll be leaving on vacation.  Let’s just say that 7 articles of clothing is going to make the packing very light!

Want to check out some other watermelon salad ideas?

Celebrating 20 – Fig & Prosciutto Salad

The Big One turned 20 this past week and we celebrated on Friday.  She invited the boyfriend and the best friend to join in the festivities.  We decided to do dinner at home and, don’t faint , she chose SALMON.  If you don’t know the story behind the salmon, you can get up to speed on my post A Conversion Experience.  She left the cake choice up to me, and I decided to add in a little first course that I had been dying to try (more on that in a bit).

Big One and I decided on a Super Hero theme together, and we also thought it would be fun to do a video scavenger hunt.  Then she was kicked out of the planning process because we all know there’s nothing sweeter in life than a good dose of surprise.

The sisters got to work on costumes for the event.  I decided that we could kill many super hero stones with the purchase of one 5-pack of Justice League boys’ undies. We ended up with a Super Man, a Green Lantern, and a Flash.  The Wee One even got her own Super Man outfit.

herocostumes

One morning over breakfast, we brainstormed the list of items for the video scavenger hunt.  The sisters could barely contain themselves.  Secret keeping from the Big One turned out to be so tough.  Here’s what the final list looked like:

  • Ice cream cone unicorn – order a McDonald’s ice cream cone and then promptly stick it to your forehead
  • Get a policeman to handcuff you
  • Get 3 strangers to Sing & dance to the YMCA with you  in front of Ralph’s
  • Hug 3 strangers in line at the Habit
  • Hang upside down on the monkey bars and sing the National Anthem
  • Go to the fire station, get a fireman, show him STOP, DROP , and ROLL   Bonus: Get him to do it with you! (25)
  • Go through the Wendy’ s Drive Thru in a shopping cart and buy a Frosty
  • Dress up in the bunny costume, go to Ralphs, and buy carrots
  • Try to buy a pack of gum at the gas station and pay with Euros
  • Lie down and pretend to sleep at the entrance of a public area for 3 minutes
  • Ask for food from someone’ s plate at a restaurant
  • Go to the Tae Kwon Do studio and start following the class

Last up  in the party preparations were decorations.  The sisters had fun with super hero drawings, signs, and various other decorative doo-dads.

herodeco

When the evening of the party finally arrived, dinner was devoured in what seemed like seconds.  I would like to think it was that the food was fab, but the real reason was more likely that everyone couldn’t wait for the main event of the evening -the video scavenger hunt – to begin.  We broke into 2 teams of 3 and off they went.  In an hour, they were back. We plugged the cameras into the TV and watched  some hysterical footage and  listened to stories that I’m sure will become family lore.  The best one being that the Hubs got the chief of the fire station to announce over the PA a call to all men on duty to report to the front of the firehouse, up went the huge roll up door to the station, and then as 7 fireman looked on, the Hubs and his fireman companion proceeded to Stop, Drop & Roll in style!

We feasted on birthday cake.  The kids all loved it, but I can’t say it’s one I would make again. A S’More Cheesecake. I’ll opt for real s’mores around a camp fire any day.

herocake

Big One’s boyfriend is editing up all of the video footage.  Maybe sometime soon, I’ll be able to post a link to our evening of craziness.  Until then, I’ll have to just share with you my secret foodie highpoint of the event.  Remember . . . that little first course I mentioned earlier?  Meet Fig & Prosciutto Salad. Let’s just say I made it again today I am so in love with it.  It screams summer, is super simple, and beautiful to boot.

The dressing consists of just olive oil, honey, and a little lemon juice (I used lime juice since I didn’t have a lemon on hand.  Toss it all in a jar and shake well.

Quarter you figs without cutting all the way through and place them on your platter.  Tear pieces of prosciutto and scatter around the figs.  Then add in some fresh basil leaves.

Drizzle the dressing over and serve.  I guarantee you’ll hesitate before digging in. It’s so simply beautiful that it demands admiration before consumption.

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So Happy Birthday to the Big One!  I loved every moment of the celebration and my new personal summer hero is the fig one.

Here’s the full Fig & Prosciutto Salad Recipe which I adapted from Simple Provisions.
 

School’s Out for Summer – Orzo with Grilled Shrimp, Summer Veggies & Pesto Vinaigrette

I think I’m starting to decompress.  I think I’m starting to decompress.  If I repeat that another dozen times, maybe I’ll start to believe it.  About 4 million things have fallen off of my schedule in the last few weeks – with the biggest one being school.  Yes, I homeschool my children and yes, it’s insane.  But the implications of that on the cooking front is that I’m always trying to wedge dinner preparations into everything else I’ve got going on during the day.  Keeping all of the plates spinning is my boiled down job description.  And no, I won’t bore you with the names of each and every plate.  Just trust me when I say, “There are  A LOT of them!”

But with school finished for the year, I can take a more leisurely approach to things in my kitchen.  I love that.  I know for some people cooking is such a hassle, but for me it really is therapeutic.  I’ll take zesting a good lemon over journaling my innermost feelings any day.  Body combat workout to release my aggressions?  I’d rather beat egg whites into stiff peaks.  If I have the time, I like to linger over the steps of putting a meal together and not rush through things.  That’s exactly what I did in assembling this summer salad.

I started by making a nice pot of orzo, draining, rinsing, tossing with a little olive oil and setting it aside.  I truly think orzo is one of my favorite pastas.  There’s something about the size and the texture that just works for me.

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Then I chopped up some red bell pepper and summer squash.

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I whisked together a little olive oil and red wine vinegar and brushed the veggies with the mixture.

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Finally, I grilled the veggies until they were just browned and then set aside.  Yes, this was the inaugural busting out of the grill for the summer.

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While the veggies were grilling, I had the peeled and deveined shrimp sitting in a little marinade of prepared pesto, lime juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.  As soon as the veggies came off the grill, on went the shrimp.  I grilled them for about 3 minutes per side and then pulled them off.  Actually, Medium Little One handled the grilling for me and did quite a fine job at it.

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I chopped up some grape tomatoes and fresh basil (we are OVERRUN with basil, so if you find all recipes for the next 3 months oozing with basil, it’s not my fault it’s the garden’s), and then cubed some fresh mozzarella.  I tossed this all together with the orzo, the grilled veggies and the grilled shrimp and then poured my remaining pesto vinaigrette over.

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I served it with some sweet potato fries and we were good to go.

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So welcome summer!  I am so glad you are here.  No I won’t be grading anymore Singapore Math, nor will I be measuring soil compaction with knitting needles for Science Fair projects.  I will not be be nagging to complete your DOL, nor will I explain rotational symmetry for the 98th time.  I don’t care if you don’t know whether the pronoun is a subject pronoun or an object pronoun, and if you can’t remember to find a common denominator before comparing fractions, then that’s just your own problem for the next three months.  I’ll be lingering over summer recipes in my kitchen and sipping white wine while doing it.

For the complete Orzo with Grilled Shrimp Summer Veggies & Pesto Vinaigrette Recipe, click here.

Want to explore some more fun Orzo Recipes?

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Food Stereotypes – Lentil & Mixed Veggie Salad

Ever find yourself stereotyping people based on the way they talk, where they come from, or the way they dress?  I find myself stereotyping food.  For lots of foods I can embrace their versatility and have fun experimenting with them in different culinary contexts.  Then there are other foods that just stay stuck in a very specific place for me.  Enter – my friend, the lentil.  In my small, little mind, if you are a lentil you are a) being eaten in a nice Indian dish or b) being consumed in some bland, tasteless way by an individual wearing Birkenstocks and reading Walden.  How sad is it that I have limited the lentil in this way?

This poor legume has never done a thing to me and yet in all my years of cooking, I can honestly say that the only time I have put it on the table was in Amy’s canned lentil soup and in one of those heat in the bag, Indian deals – – – and then that was usually only to feed my kids, not myself. And yet, to read about it, the lentil doesn’t have a bad rap at all.  One serving of lentils contains 18g of protein and only 1g of fat. Great source of iron, with one serving chalking up 37% of the daily recommended intake. And on and on go the benefits.

So I recently set out to break down this legume barrier and bring the lentil to my table in all the glory it deserves.  My first attempt got great reviews from the family.  I made Sloppy Joe Lentil Lettuce Wraps.  Unfortunately, the pictures I snapped of those little puppies just didn’t do them justice.  I decided I would do the lentil’s already damaged reputation more harm if I were to post those pictures.  Maybe the next time around, I will have better luck in the photo department and then be able to share. So next on my list I tackled a Lentil and Mixed Veggie Salad. (I had also realized that I had sequestered the lentil to only Fall and Winter dishes and couldn’t fathom it in any light summer setting).

In all honesty, I’m not sure the actual lentil part of the salad turned out as it should have.  In fact, I almost aborted after step one of the recipe.  But I stayed the course, and, correct or not, the blending of flavors in this little number and the summer freshness and lightness that it offered were both  pleasant surprises.

I started off by rinsing the lentils.

lentils rinsed

Then, in a saucepan, I combined them with some finely diced garlic and a couple of bay leaves.

lentilsgarlic

I added enough water to just cover the lentils, brought it to a boil, and then reduced the heat and simmered for about 40 minutes.

I drained them (there was basically no liquid left), and set them aside to cool.

While they were cooling, I chopped up some red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, red onion, kalamata olives, carrots, basil & tomatoes.  I tossed those veggies with the cooled lentils, and then added in a sauce made of red wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt & pepper.

I placed it atop a bed of butter lettuce on a platter and served.

lentil platter

It was a great summer evening meal served with cantaloupe and avocados with walnut fig balsamic dressing along with a fresh baguette.  Filling and yet very light.

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lentil serving

So I think I have made amends with the lentil.  I took me a while, but I did it.  Next up?  The lima bean – – – then again, maybe it’s good to tackle only one major life change a year.

Here is the complete recipe for Lentil & Mixed Veggie Salad

A Summer Splash of Green – Honeydew & Green Tomato Salad

Didn’t get this up in time for Memorial Day festivities (I was busy schlepping 4 kids up the California coast – all in the name of FUN), but it’s a great one for any summer picnic or potluck.

Personally, I don’t do green tomatoes that often.  Just the name, conjures up images of Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy.  You can try to deny it, but you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The honeydew is a little bit of a stretch for me too.  I’m a definite cantaloupe gal.  Cantaloupe is my go-to summer dinner starter.  I love serving it straight up, with a little prosciutto wrapped around it for a punch of class, and with pearl mozzarella and fresh mint for a little salad combo.  Those are just a few of the players in my routine cantaloupe line-up.  But honeydew rarely catches my attention.  So the green tomato honeydew combo was a duo of underdogs in my book.

Finding good green tomatoes may be the hardest part of this recipe.  The rest of it comes together in a snap.  But the flavors are such a unique blend that it comes off tasting a lot more complicated than it really is.

I started by dicing a little jalapeno.  Yes, it will have a kick, but just the right amount , because the heat is backed down by the sweetness of the melon.

jalapeno

Then I toasted up some cumin just until it started to smell.  I sat that aside and,  in the same pan, toasted some raw pumpkin seeds until they started to pop.  I moved the pumpkin seeds to a small bowl and tossed them with a bit of olive oil.

pepitas

To make the dressing for this little number, I whisked together the toasted cumin, some white vinegar, the diced jalapeno, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I cut up my green tomatoes (I added in a few red guys as well since I had trouble finding good green ones) and the honeydew melon.

grtoms

I tossed the tomatoes and honeydew with some cilantro leaves and the dressing, and then sprinkled with the toasted pumpkin seeds.  There was some major nose turning upping going on around the table when I served this.  Especially from the Big One, of all people.    But in the end everyone enjoyed it.

grtomsalad

I actually like the color contrast that the red tomatoes give it.  I think I will stick with that variation for future preparations.  So move over cantaloupe.   Honeydew is encroaching on your status as summer melon of choice.

Full recipe: Honeydew & Green Tomato Salad

So what’s your favorite summer salad melon?  Vote below and let me know.