Favorite things

Other than the above, right now some of my favorite things are:

1. Noosa yogurt.  I’m a huge fan of Greek yogurt.  Changed my life, I tell you.  I cannot stand regular yogurt unless it is plain or vanilla and is mixed into smoothies or with granola.  The texture, the tang, the sacchariney sweetness = blech!  And the sugar-free/”light” crap does not even warrant space here.
Anyway, Greek yogurt has incredible texture, subtle flavors, probiotic benefits not unlike the “regular” stuff, and *bonus* tons of protein.

So, Noosa is not Greek yogurt, but it’s somewhere between Greek and regular.  By way of description, the package says simply “finest yogurt.” Kristin at IGE describes the taste and texture as akin to cheesecake batter, and I think that comparison nails it.  I’ve had the mango, honey, and blueberry varieties and they are all amazing.

Noosa is made in Colorado; the milk is from cows that receive no hormone/growth treatments; and it boasts a simple, straightforward ingredient list.

The only place I’ve found it so far is Hy-Vee.  It’s not cheap, but it is soooo worth it.

2.  Summer Shandy.

{ice cold} Beer + lemonade {on the deck on a summer night} = as close to perfection as it gets

Go ahead, check my math.

3.  Teeny Tiny Potatoes.

Yes, they’re for real!  Aren’t they cute?  Delicious, too.  Roasted with olive oil, salt & pepper, or grilled in foil packets with the same seasoning.  So, so good.  Bonus:  the kids get a kick out of them!

4.  Grilled pizza.  Perhaps my favorite thing about grill season.  There is just nothing like it.  We’ve got a zillion green tomatoes on our plants right now, and I’m itching to pluck one and make the green tomato and caramelized onion pizza from last summer.

5. Salads.

Fresh greens, berries, goat cheese.  OR

Greens, chives, teeny pieces of garden broccoli, cheese, nuts.  OR

Greens, fresh peppers, lime vinaigrette.  OR

Greens, Gorgonzola, candied nuts, fruit.  OR

well…you get the idea.  The salad fun was inspired by my dear friend and just making one takes me back to the last time we dined together.

8-3-1-1

Ed. Note: Well, if it weren’t already entirely obvious, I’ve lost my muse.  Hence, my months-long absence.  Here’s to finding inspiration at the farmer’s market…or some such seasonal haven.  Also, I have no idea why the fonts in this post are wacky, but if I don’t post it right now it just won’t happen.  Please forgive/ignore. 🙂  Thanks much!

 

My husband could eat barbequed anything every day and never tire of it, so his Father’s Day dinner was a no-brainer: Ribs.  Now just to figure out WTH to do with them. 

I’ve tried, not too hard but tried nonetheless, for years to find the secret to making a rack of ribs actually taste good.  Like, really good.  As in, worth the effort it takes to eat them.  And good enough that makes the prep actually worth it considering the minimal amount of meat you actually get at the end of the whole deal.

I’ll spare you the tried-and-failed methods (except to say that one involved a bottle of Italian dressing…wha??!  I know.).  Behold the only method I will use from this point forward:  8-3-1-1.  Memorize that formula. 

8 T. brown sugar

3 T. kosher salt

1 tsp. your favorite seasoning

1 tsp. your other favorite seasoning  [I used thyme, some smoked paprika from Allspice, and probably some black pepper]

 

The genius and oh-so-generous butcher at Fareway let me in on this secret and I will be forever grateful. 

Here’s what you do:

Mix the 8-3-1-1 formula, pat gently over the rack of ribs.  Wrap the rack and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, unwrap the rack and place it on a sheet pan, cover with foil, and bake at 250 for about 4 hours.  [During that last hour and a half, your house will smell amazing and you’ll not be able to set foot in the kitchen without salivating.  Be warned.]  Remove from oven and let set. 

About 30 minutes before dinner, fire up the grill.  Slather the ribs with your favorite barbeque sauce—store-bought or homemade, whatever you fancy—and grill for a few minutes each side, turning often, just enough to caramelize that sauce and get it all sticky-delicious. 

 

These were outstanding.  Totally worth the effort and absolutely worth the time—all eight minutes of hands-on prep. J  Turning the ribs on the grill was a bit tricky, but only because they were so tender they were ready to fall apart.  I found it worked better to halve the rack and deal with just a section at a time.

Given that dinner was his Father’s Day gift, I’m more than thrilled that this formula and method turned out so well.  Might even make ‘em again this holiday weekend!

Links delicious

I recently discovered a blog written by a local couple.  I’m loving their ideas, like these tortellini caprese kebabs.

IGE was full of tasty-lookin’ meals this week.  This latest dinner might make it on my weekend menu.

Can’t wait to find some arugula at the farmers market.  When I do, I’ll be making grilled pizza with prosciutto, parmesan, and arugula.  And then I’ll make this.

I love the look of this dish.  In fact, I loved it so much that I made it the other night and served it alongside baked orange chicken and our favorite harvest grain pilaf from TJs.  I’d never had cold asparagus in a salad, so it took a few bites to come around to the different texture and flavor but I really liked it.  (Can’t say the same for my husband, who prefers his asparagus roasted or grilled and decked out with S&P and roasted garlic.  Admittedly, I could it like that every day.)  The asparagus with the chopped egg, fresh vinaigrette, and wee bit of onion tasted just like spring to me.

Links delicious

Wish these were do-able for a weeknight: no-knead dinner rolls

Maple Butter Spiced popcorn:  sounds like a delish alternative to kettle corn

There are so many fabulous applications for pancake muffins:  Saturday mornings, Easter, Christmas brunch, Sunday mornings, etc.

Making these cheesecake bars for a teacher who’s leaving the center this Friday.  For cancer treatment.  *Sigh* wishing her healing and light.

I’m all about trying squash recipes this fall, and this one is high on my list.  Really, who could say “no” to butternut squash/parmesan pasta sauce.  Well, if I change the name, perhaps my family will eat it.

Also, ftr, I tried this roasted acorn squash this week and thought it was fabulous.  She’s my go-to for squash ideas after knocking this one out of the park.  Seriously amazing; I never would have expected such fabulousness from this vegetable.

Best damn tomato sauce

A couple weekends ago, I bought a box of “uglies” from a tomato stand at the farmers market.  The tomatoes were mostly beautiful, just a few soft spots, but nothing I couldn’t work around. 

The best part: for $3 I got 10 plump, red, ripe tomatoes. 

The downside: I couldn’t use all 10 (plus the handful I’d picked up at a different vendor’s table earlier that morning) in two days, i.e., before time turned those tiny soft spots turned into a big, leaky, stinky mess.

I used the best of the bunch in a huge garden salad (the pictures of which are languishing on my camera…sorry!).  To use the rest, I cut out the bruises and tossed all of the pieces into a large saucepan along with a couple of smashed cloves of garlic, half of a small garden onion, some olive oil, a generous sprinkle of salt and mini pinch of sugar.

I had no grand designs for this simmering tomato…thing.  I really had very little idea what I was doing, but what I did know was that if I didn’t do something with those salvageable pieces they’d be beyond any recovery by the next day. 

In the back of my mind was this recipe that was all over the Internet this past winter.  I tried it (several months ago) and was underwhelmed, but I was inspired by the simple ingredients.  So with that as my springboard, I threw together this handful of ingredients and let the pot simmer on low for about two hours.  The result?

BEST DAMN SAUCE I’ve ever made.  It was simple and straightforward with (if I may say so) a perfect complement of flavors.  I had intended to toss in herbs at some point but, in the end, was really glad I didn’t.  This basic sauce was so versatile.  I poured the cooled sauce–basically softened tomatoes and garlic in lots of rich juice–into a big bowl and used it throughout the week.

I used a few tablespoons of it for pizza sauce for a quick weekend lunch.  With a little fresh mozzarella on a piece of baguette, it was outstanding.

A few days later, I pureed about a cup of the soft tomatoes and sauce along with a little red onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt for a tasty salsa to accompany our grilled tacos.

Last night I used a little more for the sauce on my carmelized onion and green tomato pizza (idea from here.  A word to the wise: do not wait — try this ASAP!!  Un.be.lievable.)

And tonight we used the last of it for spaghetti and meatballs and eggplant parmesan:

An aside:  The kids made their own meatballs!

My New Favorite Tomato Sauce

Tomatoes — whatever you’ve got, they don’t have to be pretty

A few smashed cloves of garlic — adjust to your tastes

Onion, quartered (if desired)

Generous sprinkle of salt

Little pinch of sugar

Quarter the tomatoes.  (I didn’t bother to peel or seed them, figuring I’d probably puree the whole thing in the end.)  Toss everything in a heavy stockpot and simmer over medium low heat for as long as you can manage.  I let one small batch go about 40 minutes, another for upwards of 2 hours.  Can be kept covered in the fridge for a week or so.

p.s.  Thought this was interesting and wanted to include it here so I don’t forget it. 🙂

Cookie for breakfast

When the kids came back from their week at Grandma and Grandpa’s, I had a new breakfast idea up my sleeve.  Some weeks back, I discovered Iowa Girl Eats, a great blog by, get this, a local!  It’s full of enthusiasm and great ideas, is practical and not pretentious, and features some lovely pictures.  

Kristin at IGE posts often about this “breakfast cookie.” From first mention, I was intrigued.  Initially, I thought a breakfast cookie would essentially be a granola bar, just a different shape. 

Not so.  While not as portable as a granola bar, it most definitely tastes better.  The oats are tender and creamy after spending the night hours softening in the yogurt and banana mixture, the creamy spread of yogurt is like frosting, and the fruit on top gives it a wake-you-up pop of deliciousness!  

 

The first time I made one, I was hooked.  (Though I will admit I was a bit skeptical when I prepped it the night before…Don’t fret if you try it and feel the same.  It’s totally worth any “is this really going to be any good?” doubts you might have.) 

Given my general lack of time every. single. morning, the breakfast cookie is ideal for me us because 

  1. It requires very little prep. 
  2. There’s no need to turn on the oven. 
  3. It requires just a few basic staples and only the teeniest bit of forethought.
  4. It’s packed with protein and filling enough to keep you going all morning.

 

Now, I tried this out on my kids and was surprised by their reactions.  Birdgirl loves oatmeal.  We’re talking loooooves it, even more so if there’s a dollop of yogurt on top. So, naturally, I thought she’d love the breakfast cookie.  The Boy, on the other hand, is not a fan of oatmeal, or new things in general, so I didn’t have high hopes for his review. 

All this is to say she didn’t like it and he did like it. Go figure. 

Anyway, I thought it was fantastic.  It’s even better with this: 

Best. yogurt. EVER.

 

I imagine you could mix this up any number of ways: 

– Use plain yogurt as a base and play off virtually any fruit (from fresh berries or peaches in the summer, to cooked apples in the fall); use vanilla yogurt (it’s like frosting); or pair a fruit combo–like bananas in the oats, strawberry yogurt for the topping. 

– Add some peanut butter and maybe some honey to the oat mixture (I tried this and loved it; kids…weren’t so crazy about it) 

– Include some dried fruit or, better yet, chocolate chips in the oat mix or on top! 

  

Here’s your starting point: 

Breakfast Cookie 

from Iowa Girl Eats 

1/4 c. oats 

1/2 mashed banana 

yogurt 

1 T. slivered or sliced almonds 

Mix the oats, mashed banana, and a few spoonfuls of yogurt and spread onto a small plate.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning, top your cookie with a spread of yogurt and your favorite fruit.

Bacon, a summer redoux

Next time I pretend to be a health nut, fight the urge to bring up my family’s affection for The Bacon, will you?

It’s all my brother’s fault.  I blame it on him.  (After all, I would never have come up with the idea of pureeing bacon on my own.  Nah, I’m not that kind of innovator.)

So, dinner last week.  I started with a basic idea:  burgers, mushrooms, garden green beans, salad. 

And went from there:

Beans – Easy peasy; by default, I almost always resort to the steam-saute.  The thing I love about that technique is that it is so versatile–I could add garlic, onion, shallots; I could use oil, butter, or…rendered bacon fat.  (Which, now that I type it, sounds ew…. But when you just think about it, it sounds yum…)

Mushrooms – Sautéed mushrooms are divine.  Sautéed mushrooms with bacon? Yes, please.

Burgers – Bacon-topped burgers are delicious, yes, but a little too straightforward for what I wanted out of the meal.  So I threw chopped, raw bacon, along with onion, garden-fresh herbs, and the usual round of seasonings, minus a little of the salt, into the burger mix.

Care to guess the theme based on my Captain Obvious description??

Uh huh, The Bacon.

I browned a couple of slices of chopped bacon in a skillet, and tossed about 2 T. chopped raw bacon into the burger mix.  It gave a great, subtle, smoky flavor to the burgers.

The mushrooms, sautéed in a little rendered bacon fat (again, ew…) and olive oil, were fantastic.  Of course.

And the green beans?  Topped with the chopped browned bacon and a nudge of garlic, they were total winners.

And voila!  An inspired dinner. 

Maybe next time the inspiration will be some beautiful fresh seasonal produce or something. 🙂