Grilled Squash with Basil Puree

Grilled Squash with Basil Puree

I often feel compelled to buy summer squash even though none of us are huge fans of it. It looks so cute! So versatile! But then I get home and have to scheme to get anyone to eat it.

Truth be told, I still love the deep-fried squash I grew up with in South Carolina. Ilios Noche, a local restaurant, serves a fantastic updated Greek version of fried squash—with tzatziki!

But I may be onto something here with the basil puree. It definitely gave the squash a nice punch. And it was way easier than making pesto. Don’t get me wrong, I love pesto, but I hardly ever make it.

The basil puree from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is super simple, basically basil in the food processor with olive oil, lemon juice, a tiny bit of garlic, plus salt and pepper. I can see it with roasted veggies, potatoes, chicken, pasta…lots of possibilities. So glad we planted basil seeds. I had no idea it was so easy to grow from scratch, and now we have an overabundance.

What are your summer squash (and garden veggie) go-to dishes? I’ve also found that soaking the slices in Italian dressing before grilling is pretty yummy.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Herby Green Dressing

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

I was craving a rice salad, but without the rice. Something that’s all about soaking up a good sauce. Roasted cauliflower has been my recent go-to sauce-soaker-upper, and I was really happy with what I came up with. Here’s the skinny:

Olive Oil

1 head Cauliflower, finely chopped

2 or 3 handfuls Grape or Cherry Tomatoes


2 cloves Garlic

Olive Oil

Red Wine Vinegar

1 T Dijon Mustard

tiny drip of Honey (or something else if you’re vegan)

Lemon Juice

a few tablespoons or more Minced Chives

a few tablespoons or more fresh Oregano, chopped (basil or parsley would be good, too)

1 T Capers

Salt and Pepper to taste

Chopped Walnuts (optional)

Oil a baking sheet and throw the cauliflower on it with a couple of garlic cloves. Roast at 375F, for about 20 minutes. Halve the tomatoes and roast them for about 20-30 minutes as well. This brings out their flavor like crazy.

I’m not really a measuring kind of person when it comes to dressing (or, let’s be honest, for a lot of things). If you really want measurements, you could use a basic vinaigrette and add the extras. I think I’d add even more herbs next time. I really wanted something that was so green it would color the cauliflower, but my herb garden wasn’t quite in full swing when I made this.

Chop up the roasted garlic and whisk it together with the other dressing ingredients.

Toss the cauliflower with the dressing and tomatoes. Add walnuts. Yum. I realized later that the dressing flavors were inspired by the broccoli gribiche recipe from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day.

What are you cooking this summer? I’m always on the lookout for interesting salads. Hope you had a great weekend and a happy Father’s Day.

Growing Salad

Lettuce Seedlings

Wow, what a week last week! All the destruction and loss of life in Boston and Texas, then Boston (where many loved ones live) on lockdown all Friday. I don’t know about you, but I’m still kind of reeling from it. My heart goes out to all those affected by these tragedies.

On top of that I’ve got the reverse culture shock that seems to visit me after every big national conversation. It’s often jarring to hear what people say when they’re frightened and trying to make sense of it all.

So it was welcome therapy to dig in the garden with the kids yesterday. We planted annual flowers, not pictured here, but we are so enjoying watching our vegetable garden.

Lettuce Sprouts

I let the kids pick their favorite vegetables. Our five-year-old chose “salad,” which is what he calls lettuce or spinach. The way he uses the word is very German. Our eight-year-old chose carrots, and they’re coming up very nicely.

I started peppers and tomatoes indoors. They used to look like this:


and this:

Pepper Seedlings

But then I set them out for too long in the sun and fried nearly all of them. Ugh. I was so proud of them.

There are still a few that appear to be living, so I’m trying to nurse them back to health.

Meanwhile, I’ve been sewing a lot (very therapeutic), and I’m barreling ahead with some rewrites in my novel. I’ve been getting some ideas from the book Structuring Your Novel by Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald. And my protagonist is facing some reverse culture shock of her own, so at least I can use mine.

What about you? Growing anything in the garden this year?

Have a great Monday!

Quick Black Bean and Polenta Casserole

Black Bean and Polenta Casserole

I threw this together the other night when I needed something pretty quick and had to use what I had on hand. It was a perfect easy supper.

It’s inspired by Rachael Ray’s Calabacitas Casserole, which is yummy but more involved, with no beans. I once had it at my sister-in-law’s house, and was immediately sold.

My casserole is based on three main ingredients: black beans, salsa, and pre-cooked polenta. Anything else is icing on the cake.

Quick Black Bean and Polenta Casserole

Measurements are approximated. What you want is enough salsa to give the beans plenty of flavor.

2-3 cups canned or pre-cooked black beans, drained (I used up leftovers I had cooked the day before)

1/2 to 1 jar chunky salsa (I used Herdez salsa, which was great, but would’ve been better semi-drained. I think semi-drained Ro-tel would also be excellent, and maybe even Mexican-style stewed tomatoes)

1 tube prepared polenta, sliced into 1/3 inch rounds (you could also cook your own, then chill and slice)

Olive oil

Optional add-ins: diced scallions, cilantro, chopped veggies, spinach, cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F. I made a smaller version of this (since it was just for me) and cooked it in the toaster oven.

Place the beans in an oiled casserole dish (maybe 8 x 8), and add enough salsa to suit your taste. You want a little less salsa than beans, but enough salsa to add lots of flavor. Lay the polenta rounds on top and brush them with a little olive oil.

Bake for 35 minutes or so at 375 F, then add, if you feel like it, a handful of spinach and chopped scallions, and turn up the heat to 400 F. When the spinach is wilted, the polenta is getting crispy, and the beans are bubbling, it’s done.

The polenta adds structure and has such a great creamy/ crispy texture that I really didn’t miss having cheese. This one will definitely go on my repeat list. I think I’ll add more spinach next time and maybe cilantro. Hmmm…what about sweet potato?

For more of my recipes and recipe trials, click here.

You have less than a day left to join the giveaway for a gorgeous Dawn Hanna print. Details here. All you have to do is comment about which print is your favorite—-you won’t be added to a mailing list. Just enjoy!

Mushroom and Spinach Tacos

Mushroom-Spinach Tacos

I know, I’ve been doing a lot of tacos. I can’t help myself. Here’s yet another simple twist.

I’ve had plenty of spinach and mushroom enchiladas before at restaurants but somehow never thought to recreate something similar until the recipe here, in Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson (she of 101cookbooks fame).

Her version is minus the spinach and uses fancier mushrooms (chanterelles, or Pfefferlinge, if you’re German—btw wouldn’t it be great to see this on a seasonal Pfefferlinge menu?). I just used plain brown mushrooms. Along with the mushrooms, there’s garlic, onions, and a serrano pepper involved. Yum.

I used frozen chopped spinach from Trader Joe’s. I definitely recommend spinning or squeezing it dry if you’re going that route. Fresh spinach would also totally work, of course. Either way just saute it a little in the pan, but separately from the mushrooms so each veggie cooks at the right temp and length.

I find the mushrooms really satisfying and a welcome change from my normal array of vegetables. And it was a quick lunch.

Do you get stuck in veggie ruts? I’m not-so-patiently waiting for the local-ish asparagus to come in. I’m guessing it’s still Rotkohl (red cabbage) season in Deutschland? That’s one of those dishes I’ve only appreciated in restaurants and haven’t yet ventured into cooking myself. (If you’re wondering why I’m talking about German vegetables, it’s because last year this time, we were living in Hannover, Germany).

In other news, our local chapter of the WNBA (no, not basketball—the Women’s National Book Association) had a great joint meeting the other night with the Charlotte Writer’s Club. It was a panel about the process of getting published, with lots of great food for thought from industry folk.

Meanwhile I’m still plugging away at my character interviews led by these questions. Writers, have you ever done this? It’s such a Magic-8-ball/ subconscious-channeling kind of exercise. Feels weird at times, but I’m coming up with lots of good character stuff that relates to the plot.

Oh, and one last aside. I did a Skype call to talk about Slowpoke with a class of first graders last week. So fun. Best question, which still has me laughing: “Are you ever afraid you’ll never finish another book?”

Spinach Chop

Spinach Chop

Sautéed spinach, hard-boiled eggs, garlic, lemon, toasted almonds, harissa. These are things I never ever would’ve put together, but they totally work.

This recipe is a perfect example of why I love Heidi Swanson’s work (she of 101cookbooks fame). She can put together ingredients that previously seemed un-mixable, then photograph and write about them in such a way that I HAVE to try them.

I finally finally bought her second cookbook, Super Natural Every Day. Loving it. What took me so long? If you’re interested in cooking with veggies, it’s a wonderful place for inspiration. One of the many best parts is the “Every Day” because the recipes are pared down, simple stuff for week nights. Sometimes it seems like cookbooks are filled only with special occasion dishes.

I’ve had a time looking for harissa, the Tunisian chili sauce, but this recipe works well with Cholula, one of my current hot sauce crushes (the other one is Sriracha sauce—don’t get me started).

Anyway, I love this as a simple winter meal. I seem to be craving spinach lately. And, as usual, anything with spice and citrus. For more of my less-meat recipe trials, click on the Food category.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the book signing on Saturday. What a great crowd! I felt really celebrated.

Green Apple-Avocado Salsa

Now that the weather is finally getting warm here in Germany, I’m starting to think about salads and fruits again. This is an old favorite Cooking Light recipe. When I made it last week I didn’t have any red onion, so I subbed scallions, and my bell pepper was yellow (not red), so it was a little less colorful than usual but just as delicious. One recipe note: when I’m using red onion, I like to cook it slightly to make its impact a tiny bit milder.

Last week I served this with pork chops but also spooned the salsa on top of roasted broccoli and on top of my green salad, too. I couldn’t stop eating it. I imagine it would also be fantastic with black bean tacos or tortilla chips.The salsa is really the star of the show, so you could build a meal around it however you like.

Side note: The first time I had this salsa was when my former boss made it for me once with pork fajitas because she knew I loved pork. What an awesome boss, right?

For more less-meaty recipe inspiration, check out this page.

Spicy Baked Chickpeas with Cheese

You’re going to think all we eat are beans around here. Contrary to squeaks from the peanut gallery, it isn’t true. But beans are what I’m into exploring these days.

This was another recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Really loving that book. The actual title of the recipe is “Baked Chickpeas with Fresh Cheese,” but I didn’t think that did it justice.

Here’s before baking:

You make it with a spicy Indian-style tomato sauce and coconut milk (or cream) and crumbled cheese. I subbed feta for the Indian cheese since I knew it would be a wild goose chase to find it. Sounds a little strange but it was so so good.

Here it is after baking:

We ate it with rice. There were no leftovers. However, while I was cooking it, I got scared I wasn’t going to like it. The smells and flavors just didn’t seem to work together until the last minute, when everything clicked into place, and boy I’m getting hungry just thinking about it right now.

Anyone know the etiquette for posting recipes from cookbooks? I did ask permission for the last one I posted, but I don’t feel right posting a bunch. Here’s a version of this recipe here.  And oddly you can find the page on google books here, but isn’t that kind of weird? Shouldn’t you have to buy it as an e-book? It would make a great e-book since it’s sooooo huge, but the last time I checked it wasn’t available that way.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to see the one about Jamaican-Style Baked Rice and Kidney Beans from the same cookbook.

Spicy Cauliflower

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to learn some new “more exciting” vegetable dishes, even if the kids won’t eat them. I figure more interesting veggies will mean more veggies eaten, at least for me (though hopefully my husband will eat them too). After all, nothing tastes very good if it’s just nuked in the microwave. And my kids tend to try new things when I’m eating them, especially if I don’t serve it to them or try to make them eat it.

So, I’m looking to one of my favorite blogs, 101 cookbooks, for inspiration, and for some reason her cauliflower recipes are just calling to me. Ha ha ha! No, but seriously, she makes cauliflower seem so delicious and fascinating.

I tried this recipe the other night, though I have to admit I did the lazy-I’m-not-going-to-the-grocery-store-again version with ginger paste (rather than fresh) and no chilis (not easy to find here), thinking the kids might eat it if it wasn’t too spicy. My six-year-old ate one bite after being bribed with a Skittle. She didn’t like it, but I’ll try again. The three-year-old wouldn’t touch it. I thought it was really good, though, and so did my husband. Since I had no chilis, I sprinkled a little red pepper flakes on top. I went really easy on the salt, but needed to add a little more. The difference between the slightly salted and properly salted versions was like, totally decent vs. totally delicious. I’m always trying to cut salt, but sometimes it’s necessary.

One thing that struck me about the recipe—–I had never thought of slicing cauliflower rather than cutting it in chunks. It’s so simple but really it makes the whole dish so much easier to cook and eat. So much more appealing, too.

I also finally broke down and bought Mark Bittman’s tome How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It’s so huge (perfect e-book possibility, methinks, but it doesn’t seem to exist in that format), but chock full of good stuff to try. The author of 101 cookbooks, Heidi Swanson, has a book coming out in the spring—yay!

White Gold

I received the loveliest note the other day from my friend and sometime neighbor Kim Gundle. She is quite the globetrotter and currently lives in the Netherlands but will be moving again soon.

She wrote:

“I wonder if anyone has told you about white gold? It is white asparagus, which is in season for only a few weeks each spring. Worth trying once, but you have to know the secret–you peel them. Yep, with a vegetable peeler. You don’t have to peel the bumpy head, but you peel them down until they are just a bit larger than a pencil. (They start off the size of quite large green asparagus). Then you can boil them, or I prefer sauteing them in a pan with a little olive oil and salt until soft and brown in places. Very delicate taste, and you can serve with a light cheese sauce or cold in a salad.”

I ate the yummiest white asparagus salad at a new favorite restaurant the other day. The asparagus was dressed with a creamy raspberry sauce on top of a green salad. The restaurant, Reizz, is a new find for us. Bistro atmosphere, delicious food, and great service. We went out early with the kids and they did well and hopefully didn’t bother too many other diners. The staff were sweet with them, which helps.

There was an entire spargel (asparagus) menu at Reizz. Germans seem to feel as passionate about white asparagus season as I do about South Carolina peach season.

I did try to cook white asparagus myself but didn’t peel it enough, and it was a little crunchy in the wrong sort of way.  I tried the sauteeing route and dressed the asparagus in a creamy balsamic vinaigrette, which was a good combo, but the texture is definitely key. A friend tells me I can actually have it peeled by a vendor (with a special 16-blade machine) in the MarktHalle here, so next year I’ll peel further or have it done for me.