Friday, July 29, 2011

Corn and Squash

As a child I had a healthy appetite for vegetables. In fact, if you were to ask 7 year old Staci what her favorite food was, I would have answered "Collard greens!" My mother also loves veggies and was very pleased to have a daughter who shared this interest, especially since my father did not. Whenever Dad was out of town for a weekend or week, at least one night Mom and I would declare to be veggie night and our entire meal would be based around the fresh veggies that we loved.

Corn and squash was always an essential component to those special mother-daughter veggie nights. This recipe is a Thrasher family original passed down from my grandmother to my mom and then to me. It's always made in a cast iron skillet (although a regular skillet will also work if a cast iron skillet is not available) and typically bacon grease is used in place of the healthier coconut oil listed in the recipe below.

As I made this dish to compliment a lovely rotisserie chicken purchased at Eatzi's the other night, the smells quickly brought me back to the days of my youth, standing by my mother's side as she prepared veggie night dinner for us both. Fortunately for me, Robert also loves vegetables and who can resist this delicous corn and squash side when made with fresh corn and squash direct from the farm in my produce share? Certainly not me, that's for sure.

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Corn and Squash

4 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob
4-5 small yellow squash, sliced
1 1/2 cup milk (I used 2% since it's what I had on hand)
1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
1 teaspoon pepper (plus more to taste)

Heat the coconut oil in the skillet over medium high heat.
Add the corn and saute until the kernels have absorbed most of the oil, about 5 minutes.
Add the squash,
 milk and salt and pepper.
Bring to a low boil.
 Cook, stirring frequesntly for about 20 minutes until the corn and squash have cooked through and the milk has reduced in half.
Serve with your favorite protein and enjoy. While this may not be the prettiest side dish, it is absolutely delicious.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Veggie and Chicken Pizza

So it is the middle of the summer. We have hit day 26 of 100 plus degree temperatures in a row. I have forgotten what rain is like. I know, I live in Texas, I should expect this in the summer, but for some reason, this summer feels hotter and longer and I am just ready for it to be over! So, in an effort to look at the bright side of things, I made a summer grilled veggie pizza the other night, and indeed, it helped soothe my summer woes. It was fresh, light and yummy! A perfect lazy Saturday night dinner. I hope that you enjoy it too!

I utilized a mandolin to cut my veggies. It is an essential tool to have in a cooking kitchen, as it slices very thin, evenly and quickly (and more safely than I can cut with my poor knife skills). I also used a pizza stone, it honestly does make a difference in the texture of the crust and the timing of the cooking. Because you pre-heat the oven with the pizza stone inside, the stone is evenly heated, and therefore, when you place the pizza on the stone, the pizza is also evenly heated and thus no spots that are over or underdone! Both of these cooking devices were given to me by my mom! Thanks mom!

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1 Pillsbury pizza crust
1 thinly sliced and grilled zucchini
1 thinly sliced and grilled squash
1/2 cup of sweet corn
2 breasts of grilled chicken, cut into bite sized squares
1/4 cup of reduced balsamic vinegar for drizzling
1/2 cup sliced Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

1. Grill the thinly sliced zucchini and squash (I used the indoor grill as it was just too hot outside). You just want to get light grill marks so that the veggies start to soften and gain some flavor. I brushed mine with olive oil and sprinkled salt and pepper.
2. Grill the chicken and dice into bite sized pieces.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. If using a pizza stone, then place the pizza stone in the oven during pre-heating.
4. Once the oven has preheated, carefully remove the pizza stone from the oven with oven mitts (or just use a cookie sheet with non-stick spray or cornmeal to prevent sticking) and unroll the pizza dough onto the stone with some cornmeal between the stone and dough.
5. Quickly add the prepared ingredients: Evenly spread out the zucchini, squash and chicken. Then sprinkle the corn over everything and then finish with a heavy drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar and shaved Parmesan cheese.

6. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned on the edges.
7. Enjoy right away on a hot summer night!

What? Me...spoiled? 

 Puppy tug of war!
 Action shot!
I think they both won! They took long naps perhaps that means I won!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blueberry Scones

I'm always on the hunt for breakfast items that can be made ahead of time and enjoyed on the go. While at some point I hope our schedules will slow down enough for Robert and I to enjoy a sit down breakfast together on a daily basis, for the time being breakfast to go will have to do. Unfortunately, most muffin and other breakfast pastry recipes are laden with sugar so that you might as well have cake instead. This recipe, however, is the exception.

These scones are light and fluffy and the fresh blueberries provide the perfect amount of sweetness. I discovered this recipe a few years ago on Steamy Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs. I've made a few changes to suit my taste (doubled the vanilla and swapped Greek yogurt for sour cream) and I think it's better for it. With blueberries in season, this summer is the perfect time to give these scones a try.

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Blueberry Scones

3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick of butter, softened
17 ounces of lowfat Greek yogurt (I used 2% Fage)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl combine the flour,
baking powder,
and sugar.
Whisk together to fully incorporate. Cut the softened butter into pieces and add to the flour mixture.
Using your whisk, or pastry cutter if you have one, cut the butter into the flour until well blended.
Gently fold in the greek yogurt and vanilla until well blended.

Finally, fold in the blueberries.
Spoon the mixture onto a greased baking sheet. (Should make 12-14 scones)
Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until the tops are golden brown.
Remove from the oven and serve with fresh coffee or a nice cup of tea.
Source: Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

Monday, July 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Dad!

Happy Birthday Dad!

It is so fun to get all dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant for a birthday dinner. But, I contend that it might be even more fun to host someone special at your home for a celebratory birthday dinner. At home you have no interruptions from waiters, you can make exactly what you all want for dinner, hang out with the puppies, you are on your own timetable, and there is no pricey bill at the end of the evening! It was my dad's birthday last weekend, and Bunker and I decided to host a birthday dinner for him at our house, nothing fancy, but certainly an evening filled with love, delightful conversation, and a delicious and healthy summer dinner.

Birthday Cake in the form of Cookies!

Our meal:
Raspberry Chipotle Seared Chicken breasts
Sweet Potato Gratin
Grilled Squash, Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Onions
Steamed Broccoli
Homemade Ciabatta bread with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar for dipping
Chocolate Chunk Cookies for Birthday Cake!

Who can you treat to a healthy, fresh, casual and homemade dinner to this summer?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Urban Acres Produce: Helping Local Farmers, Inspiring Local Chefs

Today's share, full of squash, kale, broccoli and green beans! So excited!
In many of my recipe posts, I reference items that came from my produce share that week. To many of our readers this may be a completely foreign concept so I wanted to take a minute and talk a little bit about Urban Acres and what it's like being a part of a produce co-op.

My husband's family has deep family roots in the farming industry. His grandparents on both sides of his family were farmers and years before Robert was born, his father farmed cotton, peanuts and soy beans in Seminole, Texas. This personal connection to farming in Texas was a big part of what drew me to join Urban Acres produce co-op.

Urban Acres is based in Oak Cliff in Dallas, Texas and, through the efforts of its founder, has partnered with many farms all over the great state of Texas to provide locally grown, organic produce every week to its partners. The heart and soul of Urban Acres is the belief that the best produce is that which is in season, grown organically and purchased locally. Not only does food taste best when in season, but the organic growth process and local purchases reduce the impact on the environment.

My first produce share with UA back in April
Purchasing produce cooperatively is not as complex as it sounds. What it means is that as a co-op member you commit to purchasing a share every two weeks that is pre-selected based on what is in season and available from partner farms. Through the commitment of its members, Urban Acres is able to purchase produce directly from the farms at a reasonable rate. The challenge for co-op members is certainly the lack of control you have over the selection of produce presented to you each time you pick up your share. I've come to really enjoy the challenge and often receive inspiration for my dishes based on what is in my share.

If you live in Dallas and this sounds like something you might be interested in, please go to their website and learn more about them. To sign up you must fill out a membership form, pay a $50 annual membership fee, and a one time $14 bin fee. Then every two weeks you will pay $30 for a half share (about 15 lbs) or $50 for a full share (about 30 lbs). Robert and I get a half share and it's perfect for our family of two, I imagine as our family grows we will eventually opt for the full share, but for now the half is just right. There are pick up locations in the Park Cities, Lakewood, Uptown, Irving, Addison, Oak Cliff, McKinney and West Richardson currently which means you likely won't have to travel far to participate.

One last thing and I'll get off my soap box. As many of you know we are currently in the middle of a pretty serious drought here in Texas. The impact of so little rain is really hard on small farmers as they are forced to rely on irrigation systems to keep their crops producing. Urban Acres has an article on their blog this week that shows how co-ops, like Urban Acres, have helped many of these small farms stay afloat during these difficult times due to the commitment of its members. We are proud to do our part to help them provide for their families and cultivate the land of this great state. I hope some of you will join me. If you have any questions about joining please leave a comment and I'll be happy to share my insight.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sevan G&G Cafe: A Wonderful Taste of the Mediterranean

Photo Credit: Sevan G&G Website
One of my favorite cuisines is Greek/Mediterranean. When I graduated from high school my parents and I took a trip to Italy and Greece. During my time in Greece I completely fell in love with the fresh flavors that infuse every dish. Ever since I am always on the look out for a good Greek restaurant in whatever city I am in. Sevan G&G Cafe will certainly be my go to Greek restaurant in Dallas from here on out.

Sevan G&G Cafe is located on Greenville Avenue just south of Belmont in a small strip center across from the old Whole Foods store. While the first impression from the street may not be much, don't let that keep you from walking through this East Dallas gem. The interior dining room is warm and inviting and a nice intimate size for a great date or double date location. And it's BYOB which also makes it an affordable date for those nights when you want a night away from the home but don't want to spend a lot of money.
Photo Credit: Sevan G&G Website
Robert and I were joined by our friends the Morgans for dinner at Sevan G&G earlier this week and we found the food delicious, and the restaurant quiet, perfect for some great conversation. We decided to start by ordering the Sevan hummus as an appetizer. The hummus was smooth with the perfect balance between garlic and tahini flavors and the boldness of the sauteed lamb and roasted pine nuts were a nice contrast to the smoothness of the hummus.

Robert and Andrew both opted to order the Gyro plate, which includes both sauteed lamb with pita, fresh vegetables and tzatziki sauce. The tzatziki sauce was perfectly seasoned with dill and other herbs so that they provided a full flavor without overpowering the yogurt. The lamb was well seasoned and not at all gamey, a key indicator of great Greek food, in my honest opinion. The pairing of the fresh vegetables and pita with the lamb provided a healthy, yet fulfilling meal that both men enjoyed thoroughly.

Missy and I both ordered the Chicken Tawook: seasoned chicken kabobs, fresh vegetables and vermicelli also served with tzatziki sauce and pita bread. The chicken was perfectly seasoned and the coolness of the tzatziki sauce was a perfect compliment to the spices in the chicken. I have always loved vermicelli that is a staple in Greek cuisine. Vermicelli is basically rice with small pieces of rice pasta that has been sauteed and has wonderful flavor and texture. Much like the gyro plate the guys enjoyed, our meal was filling yet light. On a previous visit Robert enjoyed a Greek salad and spoke nothing but praises about the blend of the vinaigrette, cucumbers, olives and shaved feta, which he insists is far superior to crumbled feta.

All in all Sevan G&G was a big success and certainly a place we will return to again and again. The atmosphere was perfect for an evening out with friends, the food was amazing and, thanks to the BYOB policy, we got out for about $30 a couple. We ran out of room for dessert, but next time I plan to save room for some Baklava.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ricotta Gnocchi with Peas and Corn

I love gnocchi. It is so delicate, so fluffy, so perfectly tender. I am, however, not the best at making homemade gnocchi. I have had many failures before. Sometimes they are too dense, sometimes they melt together once I take them out of the boiling water, sometimes they melt together in the boiling water! However, I cannot seem to get rid of the itch to make homemade (and edible) gnocchi. I am glad I did not give up the fight! I have finally found the perfect recipe and technique for perfectly tasty, delicate, light and airy gnocchi! Find my inspiration at Food and Wine, it is a Tyler Florence recipe, he is by far my favorite chef.

The sauce is of my own making. Something springy...even though we are in the middle of the hottest summer I can remember. I think that says more about my memory than about the heat.

Please enjoy, and please follow the recipe exactly for the gnocchi, but veer as far off course as you wish with the sauce to satiate exactly what you are craving.

Shafer with her CJ and Grand-daddy Doc at the lake!

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Ingredients for Gnocchi:
1 1/2 cups Ricotta
2 Egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Ingredients for Sauce:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
6 slices of prosciutto
1 cup of corn
1 cup of peas
2 tablespoons of reduced balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup of shaved Parmesan cheese

Steps for Gnocchi:
1. Combine the ricotta with the two egg yolks and salt in a large bowl and stir until well mixed together.
2. Add the 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons of flour to the ricotta mixture.

3. Stir until a rather sticky and soft but not entirely wet dough forms.

4. Sprinkle some flour onto your work surface and turn the dough out onto the surface. Knead for about 3 to 5 minutes. The dough will be a bit tacky.

5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest in the freezer for 30 minutes. *****I have found this step to be essential in making gnocchi*****

6. After the dough has hardened a bit (no more than 30 minutes), you can roll the dough out into 4 strands that are about an inch in width.

7. Cut these ropes of dough into 1/2 inch pieces with a floured knife.

8. Transfer these pieces to wax paper.

9. Place the gnocchi back into the freezer for another 30 minutes. *****Again...essential for me at least...*****

10. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the gnocchi.

11. Let boil until the gnocchi comes to the surface, and then continue to boil for another 2 minutes.
12. Transfer the gnocchi to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

13. In a large pan, heat the olive oil and then add the gnocchi to the brown the gnocchi on all sides.

Steps for Sauce:
1. Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan.
2. Add the sliced prosciutto, peas, corn and reduced balsamic vinegar to the olive oil.

3. Add the browned gnocchi to the sauce.

4. Sprinkle the shaved Parmesan cheese onto the gnocchi.

Enjoy with a hearty loaf of bread and a Chardonnay!

Yet another play session!