Friday Feasts: Asparagus Tarts

Excuse me!  You must make these for dinner tonight!  Or for a pre-dinner snack.  Or just because it’s Friday and you want to celebrate the weekend!

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I made them on Sunday for lunch and we killed them in seconds.

Mmm… and if it weren’t for the balsamic reduction drizzled on top I don’t think I woulda devoured them as quickly as I did!

Do it!  Just splurge a little this weekend!

Asparagus Tarts

Adapted From: Joy the Baker

Ingredients

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (I used Swiss cause that’s what I had!)
1 pound slender asparagus, trimmed and cut to fit pastry
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil
balsamic reduction, optional

Directions

Preheat oven at 400 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Unfold puff pastry on floured work surface.  Using a pizza cutter, cut along each folded crease making three long rectangles.  Next, cut each rectangle in half now having six square-rectangle pieces.  Using a small paring knife, score a 1/4″ border along each pastry piece.  Place on lined baking sheet and brush lightly with egg.  Sprinkle with salt and ground pepper to taste.  Top with a small heaping of cheese trying to stay in the border.  Now, press 4-5 asparagus spears into cheese.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and ground pepper.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and asparagus is cooked through.

Drizzle with balsamic reduction and shove one in your mouth!

Makes 6 small tarts.

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Saturday Night Hooking: Makeshift Pea Ladders

The first time I met my yoga teacher, Christina, she referred to herself as a “joyful gardener.”  It was an offhanded comment–something to do with the reason why she liked my green yoga mat with the tree on it–but I find myself thinking about those paired words often, especially now that my seedlings are growing up, preening with their flowers, and showing the beginnings of fall and winter produce.

For me, part of adopting that description is about feeling resourceful.  My joy comes from reusing what we have on hand.  If an item has outlasted it’s purpose inside the house, I’m always hoping there’s a suitable task waiting for it outside: feeding the worms, adding to the compost pile, or perhaps becoming a makeshift stake for a plant that’s become too top-heavy.  So, when the row of peas started to grow curled tendrils and were looking around for something to climb on, I knew I had to rig something.

But, rigging a ladder for the peas requires construction and power tools and men (or, so I assumed), so this wouldn’t be a solo project.

Enter: Bob.

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This is my husband, Bob. This is the “What?” face Bob makes when I’ve asked him to do something a little strange. “Yes, honey, I need these pieces of wood turned into spikes for the peas.”

Bob is not a joyful gardener, but he caters to my whimsy without complaint.  I count this as a win.

When I ask for a favor, like pea ladder construction, I always come with complete instructions, down to things like: Don’t we need saw horses? This is Bob setting up a table and suggesting that I let him handle the How and I just worry about the What. Heeee.

When I ask for a favor, like pea ladder construction, I always come with complete instructions, down to things like: Don’t we need saw horses? This is Bob setting up a table and suggesting that I let him handle the How and I just worry about the What. Heeee.

So, after scouting around on the Internet and seeing some pretty well made pea ladders I thought, hey, I don’t need to run out and buy a trellis for these plants.  We can just make something, even if it doesn’t fall into the realm of “well made.”  See, peas aren’t very picky.  They don’t care if you sand anything or use brand new wood.  In fact, they’d crawl all over you if you’d just stand there long enough.

When my parents had their backyard trees put in, years ago, they came with large stakes that have sat on their side yard ever since.  I gleefully stole those for our project.

Me: “Safety first! I’m taking photos for the blog. Do you want to influence young children to not wear safety gear while using circular saws?” Bob: “I don’t think young children are your demographic, dear.” He put them on anyway.

Me: “Safety first! I’m taking photos for the blog. Do you want to influence young children to not wear safety gear while using circular saws?” Bob: “I don’t think young children are your demographic, dear.” He put them on anyway.

He’s just going to make two diagonal cuts–one on each piece of wood.  This way they’re easier to pound into the ground.

Added bonus: the leftover scraps double as two Buffy-style stakes for any future vampire fights.

And here comes the pounding!

And here comes the pounding!

Now, this will seem completely obvious to you, but I didn’t realize it until after he’d pounded both of them into the dirt: line up your poles.  I placed them slightly to the right of the row and now the plants have to lean a little just to reach the strings we tied between the poles.  If you put them inline with the row of climbers, they can just go straight up without having to blindly seek out their ladders.

Now, get some twine or string and start making rows!

Now, get some twine or string and start making rows!

Make sure you’re keeping the string tight as you tie it around the poles.  The peas aren’t terribly heavy, but if you’re in a windy area a few loose strings can cause them to swing around.  We’re not entirely sure how high the peas are going to get, so every few days I wander out with my ball of orange twine and assess whether or not I need to make more rows.

This is taken a few weeks after we built the ladder for the peas. Now the beans needed something to climb! Luckily, we had some rebar in the garage.

This is taken a few weeks after we built the ladder for the peas. Now the beans needed something to climb! Luckily, we had some rebar in the garage.

I don’t know how many garages have stray pieces of rebar hanging around or if I’m just particularly lucky because my father is an engineer and therefore has… engineer-y things in his garage.  But!  Rebar is a good substitute for wooden stakes because it won’t rot as quickly and you don’t have to cut it before you hammer it into the ground.  And then, once you realize you’re able to use rebar for things, you’ll want to use it everywhere!  Case in point:

Need to make sure your dogs don’t trample your garden? Perhaps you have some rebar and some old chicken wire hanging around!

Need to make sure your dogs don’t trample your garden? Perhaps you have some rebar and some old chicken wire hanging around!

I’m a big fan of getting things for free (who isn’t?!), but I think I get even more excited when I’m able to recycle items that would otherwise just lay around and collect dust.  It’s the same feeling I get when I realize I have all the ingredients for tonight’s dinner in the house already.  I don’t even have to climb out of my pajamas and go to the market!

And if that isn’t the definition of joy, I don’t know what is.

Friday Feasts: Blueberry Pancakes

A weekend filled with zero plans except for some major grocery shopping and cooking and laundry.

Yuck! Laundry!

Have you seen Game of Thrones on HBO?  It’s pretty good.  It’s worth checking out.  And don’t be discouraged by the first episode.  It had a little cheese sprinkled here and there, but it gets better.  We were hooked and finished two seasons in about two weeks.  We stayed up way past our bedtime because, like every TV drama, there’s a hook at the end.  We’d look at each other and say, “Okay, one more and than we HAVE to go to bed.”  And sometimes one more turned into two more.

Anyway, pancakes.  My favorite breakfast food with a cup of coffee.

And since blueberries are in season you’ve got to make your pancakes with some blueberries in ‘em.

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Blueberry Pancakes

Ingredients

3/4 cup of milk
2 tbs of white vinegar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs butter, melted
1/2 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries

Directions

Pour vinegar into milk and give it a good stir.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  You’re basically making a buttermilk substitute.  In the meantime, whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  After the milk has sat for 5 minutes, whisk in the egg.  Pour into the dry ingredient mixture along with the melted butter and vanilla.  Stir until combined.  Lightly fold in blueberries.

Heat griddle on medium-high heat.  Spray with non-stick cooking spray and ladle pancake batter onto prepared griddle.  Cook until the bubbles on top no longer fill, flip and serve once cooked through.

Serves 2 to 3.

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Friday Feasts: Chicken Picatta

We had our wedding reception at an Italian restaurant and one of the courses was Chicken Picatta.  It my husband’s choice after tasting all sorts of yummy things.  He loves chicken.  I think I’ve mentioned that before.  Anyway, this past Valentine’s Day I wanted to recreate that Chicken Picatta.

I’ve made this twice already.

And let me tell you – this recipe was better.

Like a million times better!

Butter and olive oil and lemon, oh my!

One of THE best combos if you ask me.  Lemon is one of my favorite additions to almost any dish.  If it’s got lemon in it I’ll probably be giving it a whirl.

On a side note, I would also like you to check out my current food crush, Shutterbean!  I’ve been stocking her blog the last couple weeks and yesterday when she mentioned in one of her posts that she’s been stalking a particular blog too I didn’t feel as nutty!

I want to make these things like today!  So, invite me to your house so I have an excuse to make this and that and this.  Please and thank you!

Okay, Chicken Picatta!

The ingredients are simple.Ingredients-1-1024x768

Pretend that the parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil, and butter are pictured.  And that lemon squeezer gadget is one of my favorite thingamabobbers.  It’s Pampered Chef, but you can find one anywhere.

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Pounded out chicken seasoned with salt and pepper, dredged in flour.  To make this gluten free use a gluten free all purpose flour!

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Butter and olive oil in a stainless steel pan.

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A golden fine crust.

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Serve up with angel hair pasta or mashed potatoes!

Chicken Picatta

Adapted from: Giada De Laurentiis

Ingredients

2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half (or be like me and cut them in half and pound them out until 1/4″ thin)
course salt and freshly ground black pepper
all-purpose flour for dredging
6 tbs butter
5 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup capers, rinsed
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

Season your prepared chicken with salt and pepper.  Dredge chicken in flour and set aside.

In a large skillet (preferable stainless steel) heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of EVOO.  When the butter and oil start to sizzle and pop add the first 2 pieces of chicken.  Cook for about 3 minutes.  Turn and cook other side for another 3 minutes.  After, transfer to a plate.  Melt another 2 tablespoons of butter and olive oil.  Repeat with the last 2 pieces of chicken.

Now, add the lemon juice, stock, and capers.  Cook over medium-high heat, scraping down the sides (where the brown bits live) for extra flavor.  Bring to a boil.  Add all the chicken back to the pan and cook on medium heat for another 5 minutes or so.  Place chicken on a serving platter.   Add remaining butter to pan and whisk until melted.  Check for salt and pepper.  Pour sauce over chicken and finish with chopped parsley.

Serves 4

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Tuesday Tips: Not Easier, but Certainly More Satisfying.. Homemade Nutella!

Here’s the most important tip I can give to you and your waistline:  If you have not tasted Nutella before, immediately hammer it into your head that the only way you can have that sort of magic dance across your tongue is by making it at home.  The effort involved will keep you from creating batch after batch and pouring it all into your mouth, on your face, hair, and rolling around on the kitchen floor in a hazelnut-induced chocolate haze.

Trust me, I know.

For the rest of you who’ve found yourselves at Costco and noticed the giant two-packs of this bottled nirvana suddenly appearing in your cart, I feel for you.  I notice that once I’ve stashed them in my cupboard, I start to develop needs.  I need to sneak a spoonful in the middle of the night.  I need toast, suddenly, and it needs to be thick with chocolate sin.  Before I know it, I’ve blacked out and there are two empty jars of Nutella resting at my feet.

Have I explained just how fierce my love is for this stuff, yet?

All that said, my friend pointed me in the direction of a homemade Nutella recipe last week.  I’d been pretty good about not allowing it into the house for many months, now.  (That same sort of ban used to be put on peanut butter, but I’ve since found some control.)  But, I’m such a sucker for deconstructing food and working from the ground up, I just couldn’t pass.

Nutella

What? Don’t you all eat your hazelnut-chocolate-butter snacks on bales of straw?

This culinary masterpiece comes to us from Circle B Kitchen!  I hadn’t stopped by this blog before, but in one weekend I not only made her Nutella, but her Artichoke Antipasto as well.  (That, too, is amazing.)

Recipe: Homemade Nutella

Adapted from: Circle B Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons mild oil, more as needed (Well, I went to Henry’s and they had every oil under the sun but hazelnut, so I went with vegetable. Next time? Totally trying coconut!)

Instructions

  1. 1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the hazelnuts evenly over a cookie sheet and roast until they darken and become aromatic, about 10 minutes. Transfer the hazelnuts to a damp towel and rub to remove the skins. (I found this to be a lot easier said than done. Perhaps one should not pour ALL the hazelnuts into the damp towel, as I did. I made a big hazelnutty skin mess, but it worked out okay.)
  2. 2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a smooth butter, scraping the sides as needed so they process evenly, about 5 minutes. (Do not put this in your Vitamix. I may have broken mine, which is ridiculous since that blender is supposed to bend space and time.)
  3. 3. Add the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt and hazelnut oil (or whatever oil!) to the food processor and continue to process until well blended, about 1 minute. The finished spread should have the consistency of creamy peanut butter; if it is too dry, process in a little extra hazelnut oil until the desired consistency is achieved. Remove to a container, cover and refrigerate until needed. Will last about a week. (Good luck with that!)

Now, when I mentioned I made this last week, someone asked about the sugar content in the homemade versus the mass-produced.  After plugging-in the ingredients, it looks like the homemade is a smidgen higher in fat and calories, but lower in sugar.  Also, the sugar level is completely customizable — so you could play with less sugar and find something just as satisfying!  It should be noted, homemade was also higher in protein and fiber, as well as the good-fats.

(Like how we’re pretending this is a health food?)

Enjoy!