Friday, April 27, 2012

I Had a Midsummer Night’s Dream…

About Revisiting my Favorite Recipes for the Perfect Summer Solstice Party

The days are getting longer and home improvement shops are rolling out the outdoor pavilion sets. You know the ones—they have dreamy names like “Garden Oasis Gazebo”. Admit it! It’s fun to check out the plush cushions on the wicker patio stuff, and peek into hibachis where fake corn and steak adorn the grill. I like to picture a summer get together with guests roaming my backyard in cottony dresses, kids capturing lighting bugs, and happy campers of all ages queuing up at my buffet.
Though Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner, I can think of an even better date, further out, for a grand summer party: the summer solstice, on June 20th. It’s the longest day of the year, and appeals to Extreme Party Planners the world over. As I planned my party, I focused my eyes (and taste buds) on Scandinavia, plenty inspired to sit down and create my own summer solstice party on Pinterest.

Did I Pique Your Pinterest?
You’ll see when you visit my newest pinboard, that I’ve given myself over to the idea of seafood. The Scandinavians got it right. Picture it: salmon, lobster, lightly roasted vegetables—loads of starchy, wonderful potatoes coated in enough fresh dill, you’d swear it was lawn clippings and not just an abundance of herbs on the table. It would have been good to be a Viking! Roasted Fingerling Potatoes Topped with Smoked Salmon and Dill were the first appy to pop into my head. Please let me know if they land somewhere in your summer buffet.    

Summer Solstice Menu; All Oldies But Goodies!
For the entrée. How about making LOBSTER the Maine Event? Click the punny link to read my personal experiences signing a FedEx receipt for still alive, still squirming crustaceans. I know that lobster is a tall order in the present economy—so if you want to save, or just spare your guests from those small hammers and bibs, this is your next best thing: the Barbecued salmon hoagie. You’re going to fall in love with it the minute you see it—and it absolutely must be served with Chili roasted corn on the cob with lime cream. Serve Rosemary Baked Potatoes as one side, and Six veggie slaw with tarragon as the other; it’s the crisp, cool counterpart to what’s hot.

Dessert has to be light, creamy (a difficult juxtaposition in food, I know) and make you hum along to Billy Ocean’s Caribbean Queen. I’ve gotten compliments on my trifles, and the Tropical trifle is among the best in my trifling repertoire.

Simple Moonrise Parties in Lieu of the Bigger Bashes
I wouldn’t worry too much about dessert if the drinks offered at your party are cool in every sense of the word. I’m serving  Bourbon minted tea, which brings me round to describing what one of my readers shared with me recently. She serves this beverage during her moon rise parties—small gatherings that involve she and her husband, a few friends and a toast in the hour or two before dusk, when the moon looks like a bouncy bluish ball in the sky. I like to picture this friend in a white deck chair, glass in hand, enjoying the remains of the day. Please bookmark these published Moon rise times for the summer months ahead.
Enjoy them all! Summertime is a celebration of new beginnings and vitality!  Walk barefoot through the grass, my friends!      

Friday, April 13, 2012

It’s a Foolproof Food Day!

That means I step aside and let a guest poster regale us with tales from his or her kitchen! I hope you will test and enjoy Jessica’s Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad. I look forward to reading your comments, left on this site and on my Facebook wall, viewed daily by tons of hungry Nanas. That’s it. Back to you, Jessica!

How a Roasted Veggie Salad I Made on the Fly Turned Out to Be More Than Magical
By Jessica Kettler

After a food-filled weekend spent around the TV with friends, all I wanted was a big plate of vegetables. But of course, when I asked the inevitable question to my husband, “Do you have any cravings for dinner this week?” his response was pasta.

Well….I was craving a big salad, so I figured I would try to combine the two to make us both happy! I had this big container of whole wheat couscous in my pantry, which I decided to start with, then do what I do best...merge and create! We ended up loving this salad so much I made a note to self to double the ingredients, so I can have leftovers for the week!

Think About This When You Shop for the Ingredients

I headed to the store and let the gorgeous produce section guide me through the ingredient list. Right before the checkout, I passed by a case of fresh mozzarella…and…presto, the idea started to come together! All I had to do was take great care in shopping for the olive oil and balsamic vinegar—because these are what really make the flavors in this dish. The link I just shared is a specialty olive oil place in Raleigh called “MidTown Olive Press” and that was where I bought the star ingredient for this dish. I usually reserve my good oils and vinegars for salads where you can really taste them, but the Tuscan Herb infused oil from MidTown seemed like a worthy gamble. We were pleasantly surprised at its impact on this recipe. All I can say is, WOW…did we ever end up happy!

Think About This When You Make the Dish

When you get around to viewing the complete list of ingredients, you’ll notice that a whole pint of pretty little cherry tomatoes, and other savory items to compliment them, go into this recipe. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to stir the tomato mixture around a few times while it marinates to evenly distribute the amazing flavors. Promise me you won’t forget?

Why I Love this Recipe

It’s incredibly low fat! It’s loaded with roasted vegetables and spicy arugula. The couscous can easily be substituted with quinoa (which I did for myself, to satisfy a gluten free eating preference.)

Why My Husband Loves this Recipe:

Okay, his reasons fit on a bullet list:
• fresh mozzarella
• couscous
• spice
• and I should mention again, fresh mozzarella!
P.S. Instead of tossing arugula into this couscous salad, my husband chose to add a chicken breast. And he was a very happy man :)

About Jessica Kettler: She loves everything about cooking; her husband loves everything about eating! She writes about satisfying HIS meat-and-potatoes preferences with HER love of sprouts and quinoa. Welcome to the ultimate kitchen compromise! See it on her blog

Jessica’s Roasted Vegetable Couscous

Serves: 4 as a side salad, or 2 as a veggie main dish
Prep Time: about 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes cook time

2 portabella mushroom caps, gills removed, cut into ¼-inch pieces, about 2 cups
1 red bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch pieces, about 1 cup
1 medium zucchini, cut into ¼-inch pieces, about 1 cup
1 medium yellow squash, cut into ¼-inch pieces, about 1 cup
½ red onion, cut into ¼-inch pieces, about ½ cup
3 tablespoons herb-infused oil, divided (feel free to substitute with olive oil)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried basil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered, about 1 cup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1 cup plain whole wheat couscous
1 cup home made vegetable broth, or prepared low sodium vegetable broth
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed, about ½ cup
1 bunch fresh arugula leaves, about 3 cups
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 400º

Place the vegetables onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and coated with cooking oil spray. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle with the salt, pepper and dried basil. Toss to coat. Roast for 30 minutes.

Place the cherry tomatoes into a small bowl. Pour the balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon olive oil over top. Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Stir until all the tomatoes are covered. Let sit for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir tomatoes every 5 minutes or so to help the flavors marry together.

Place the couscous into a medium pot with lid. Stir in the vegetable broth and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the couscous to a boil over medium high heat. Cover the pot with a lid. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork to break up any clumps.

To assemble the dish, place a handful of arugula on a plate. Top with couscous and roasted vegetables. Top with mozzarella chunks and the cherry tomatoes with their dressing. Drizzle with additional oil and sprinkle with basil to make the flavors pop!

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