tzatziki

Is anyone else overwhelmed with the mass amounts of cucumbers cranking out of your garden?

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Let’s see a show of hands.

I will admit, I’ve had to great creative over the past weeks with the amount of produce being dropped off on my doorstep. After all, a girl and her hubby can only handle so many slices of cucumbers {sprinkled with a little coarse salt, obviously} as an afternoon snack. I’ve done everything from infusing water with these guys, to spiralizing them in salads, and layering them with soft cheese wedges.

And then I remembered that I had yet to make one of my favorite cucumber snacks – tzatziki dip! This wonderfully tangy appetizer is one of my favorites – in fact, a Greek restaurant right in our downtown area makes perhaps one of the best I’ve had. I’ll eat it by the spoonful, it’s that’s delicious.

With the idea set in mind, and friends coming over for a night of cocktails/games/cooking, I knew that this would be an excellent time to tweak my recipe. Oftentimes made with sour cream and whole fat yogurt, I wanted to lighten this up slightly so that it would still be delicious, but with healthier benefits. By swapping out the aforementioned yogurt with 0% Greek, the creamy consistency is not lost, nor is flavor. The tart bite of this yogurt pairs perfectly with the zangy lemon. Fresh, spicy garlic is added in for flavor, and dill acts as the balancing beam between the flavors. A little salt and pepper rounds it all out – you’re left with nothing but a bowl of dip so bursting with flavor {and protein! thanks to the Greek yogurt} you won’t miss a thing.

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Tzatziki {makes about 3 cups}

This not only makes a wonderful dip to set out amongst other appetizers, but I absolutely love to spread it on veggie sandwiches, or use it as a topping on salads. To really ensure full flavor, make it a few hours before serving, to let the flavors truly marry together.  

Ingredients:

3 cups of Greek yogurt {I used Chobani 0%}

1 large cucumber, washed and dried well

juice of 1 fresh lemon

3 large clove garlic, minced

1-2 tbsp. dried dill, or to suit your taste

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Using a box grater on the largest side, process the cucumber. I prefer to leave the skin on, as I like the crisp texture and vitamin boost it provides. If using a cucumber with seeds, grate only the fleshy outer area.

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Squeeze out any excess water and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the minced garlic, lemon juice, dill, and salt and pepper. Whisk in the Greek yogurt until combined. Fold in the grated cucumber using a spatula, making sure to fully incorporate.

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Serve alongside assorted veggies, pita bread, and crackers! Dip will last 4 days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator…though it never seems to last more than a day or so in our household ; )

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Let’s Discuss: what’s your favorite brand of Greek yogurt? Do you prefer cooking with a certain variety? 

 

crockpot bolognese sauce

I’ve always felt that the crockpot is a severely underutilized kitchen tool.

Now, now, don’t get me wrong – I know there are plenty of people out there who swear up and down with this culinary piece of cookware heaven (myself included) , but I feel certain in the fact that many people don’t appreciate all the great things this versatile tool can do. Sure, it’s great for soup and stews…but how many people can say that they use it for other times of year, to make jams and jellies with fresh summer produce, applesauce in the fall, and roasts in the winter? let me know if you do below, and how you like to use it! 

It’s high time that I bring this appliance out into the blog and let it shine. Today, my dears, we’re talking sauce. Bolognese sauce, to be exact.

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Let’s just take a minute to appreciate that beauty, the base for our sauce. Wow.

This is by and far one of my husband’s favorite recipes. Thick and rich, gloriously dense and meaty, flavors cooked to perfection – how can you go wrong? Truth be told, you really and truly can’t. It’s chock full of flavors, herbs and spices, the perfect dish to soothe any soul.

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However, and I’m being painfully honest, it’s one sauce that I don’t find myself drawn to making often. The reason?…you ask, scratching your heads and wondering why….

It’s quite simple, actually. Bolognese sauce is painfully long and attention-grabbing to make. While I wish, more often than I care to share, that I could spend all my days in the kitchen, quietly stirring pots of simmering goodness, making bread and cranking out pies and cakes, it’s just not in the cards for me right now. That’s what my weekends are for, and I am extremely thankful I have the opportunity to do just that {the husband doesn’t complain, either!}. But there are just some days when you need the benefits and warm hug of a dish that has been slowly simmered all day, had love poured into it, and that is where we bring in the crockpot.

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I would be lying if I told you that this particular crockpot dish is a simple one. As many of you all know, a vast majority of said recipes require little to no prep work…chop and dice you veggies, brown your meat {if you feel so inclined}, then pour it all in, set the timer, and forget about it until your cooking time has elapsed. With this one, we have a bit of browning, a bit of sauteeing, and a bit of stirring to take on. I find that this is the perfect thing to do the evening before you want to have it for dinner, when there are still dinner dishes piled in the sink {because who wants to do dishes more than once on any evening?} and you still have your cooking groove – because yes, that is a thing. A bit of work the night before makes for a smooth transition to crockpot heaven in the morning. A simple plug in of the appliance, placing in the ingredients, and folding in the tomatoes – DONE! All that’s left do you once it’s almost time for dinner is to prepare the noodles, and pour a glass of a bold and spicy red wine. I can’t be the only one who loves a good red with this type of sauce, eh?

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Crockpot Bolognese Sauce

{adapted from Kelsey Nixon via the Cooking Channel}

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

6 ounces tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon each rosemary, basil and oregano

1 cup dry red wine

2/3 cup milk {I used 1% because it’s what I had on hand}

Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground sirloin

Several cheese rinds {I always keep these in the freezer – this time, I had one each of  Romano and Parmesan}

Pasta, for serving

To prepare:

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, carrots, celery and onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, thyme and nutmeg, and continue cooking until the vegetables have softened and started to brown, about 2 minutes. Deglaze with the wine, pulling up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

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In the same pan, drizzle in a few more tablespoons olive oil. Add in the pork and sirloin, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Cook until browned through, then remove any drippings from the pan.

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Carefully transfer the vegetable mixture and meat mixture to the slow cooker. Stir in the milk and tomatoes. Toss in the cheese rinds.

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Cover and cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low 8 to 10 hours. Serve with your pasta of choice and, of course, a hearty glass of red wine!

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This, like many of my earlier recipes, is a great one to make a large batch of and freeze for later use. While great reheated and served atop pizza, it’s fun to get a little creative with this sauce! – try ladling it atop pizza, stirred in with a saute of veggies, or even on top of mashed potatoes. It is truly a multipurpose sauce. 

kale pesto

Kale is, easily, one of my favorite greens. Aside from its gorgeous green color, it’s chock full of nutrients!

One cup of chopped kale has:

-33 calories (!)

-9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and 684% of vitamin K {wowzers!}

-it is a good source of copper, potassium, iron manganese, and phosphorus

-rich in the anti-oxidants {carotenoids and flavonids} associated with fighting cancer

-rich in lutein {great for eye health}

-its high fiber content helps to bind bile acids, helps lower blood cholesterol

-reduces the risk of heart disease

…..makes you want to run out and buy some right now, right?

 Aside from being a nutritional powerhouse, kale is also easily adaptable into many of your run-of-the-mill recipes. Chopped and eaten raw in salads, sauteed and served as a side dish, run through your juicer for the delicious “green juice”, wilted and served atop salads, let’s not forget the hugely popular kale chips – the list goes on and on.

I’ll take a leap and say that this particular pesto is one of my favorite ways to jazz kale up. Don’t get me wrong, I love a traditional pesto packed with fresh basil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese, but this is such a fun twist on it! I made it one evening for a quick pasta dinner not too long ago, because…right now…as we all know, fresh herbs are hard to come about before the bounty of spring/summer starts hitting the market {I just can’t bring myself to buy basil when I grow it in groves during the summer!}.

So….enter kale – the hearty leaf is the perfect substitute! Aside from the benefits listed above, I also set out to slightly lighten the pesto sauce. I’ve found in the past that replacing some of the extra virgin olive oil with a splash of two of stock does nothing to the flavor, but rather, adds another depth and richness to the dish. It also lets you go back in for an extra big scoop without the guilt, amiright?

I love to serve this as an appetizer, with crusty bread or whole wheat crackers. It’s also great for smearing on sandwiches {think a grilled cheese topped with a fried egg!}, or just tossed with warm pasta and olive oil. Whichever path you choose, you will be sure to enjoy the bright and fresh flavors of this pesto!

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Kale Pesto {original recipe}

Makes about 1 to 1.5 cups

Ingredients:

5 cloves of garlic

1 lb. kale

juice of half a lemon

1/4 C. grated pecorino romano cheese

1/3 C. chicken stock {feel free to use a combination of olive oil and stock, making sure you keep the overall amount of 1/3 consistent with the recipe}

salt & pepper, to taste

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To Make:

Fit your food processor with the standard blade. Add in the kale and garlic, and process well to combine {you want the kale to be very finely processed, and the garlic as well}.

Add in the chicken stock and lemon juice, processing again. Lastly, add in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Give it one last final whirl.

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Pesto will last up to one week, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator. It also freezes extremely well! 

 

roasted chicken with buttermilk smashed potatoes & dijon gravy

If roasting chicken is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

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I mean, how can anyone say no to a piece of perfectly roasted chicken, with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy?

Is anyone raising their hand??…I didn’t think so. 

One snowy day back in January, the hubs and I were lucky enough to be granted a snow day. Well, more like half a snow day….when the roads get bad around here, people tend to head home. Untreated roads and not living in the “north” can make for an…interesting…commute home. But I digress – wow, I tend to ramble sometimes!

We had both been craving a hearty roast for dinner, but a somewhat bare refrigerator and sore lack of a whole chicken left something to be desired. I began rummaging around, thinking to myself “How can I make this work?”. I knew what I wanted to achieve – a healthy, balanced dinner but still so comforting, no one would miss the lack of butter, cream, and the like. Sometimes, a little health kick is what you need, no?

Eyeing up the pantry and fridge, the light bulb started to form. I had been successful in the past with making gravy and other sauces with only a minimal amount of butter and using mostly stock, so I knew that would work. To enrichen the flavor, I thought to myself, how about some mustard? A smooth, tangy dijon would heighten the profile of a pretty basic gravy, and then to freshen it up I would add in some herbs. “Rosemary!” I thought to myself….thus, component #1 was born.

The chicken I knew I wanted to keep simple, to really let the gravy and potatoes shine. I always find myself loving chicken the most when it’s roasted with just the basics. Fresh cracked pepper, kosher salt, and good extra virgin olive oil always do it just right for me. That was a no brainer.

The last component – the potatoes – I knew I wanted to keep it slightly on the healthier side. While I have a soft spot for mashed potatoes whipped with copious amounts of butter, cream and tangy Parmesan, I found myself gravitating towards the buttermilk I had leftover in my fridge. Knowing that this would be a great mix in with the potatoes, and along with lots of fresh garlic, I had formulated the rest of my plan.

…and thus, my roast chicken dinner was born. I’ve made this multiple times since that snowy day in January, and let me tell you, this will continue to be on rotation in our household. It’s quite easy, healthful, and full of flavor. It’s also a perk that the leftovers make a killer sandwich the next day.

Enjoy!

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Roasted Chicken with Buttermilk Smashed Potatoes & Dijon Gravy {original recipe}

{serves 2, with leftovers}

For the chicken:

1-1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts

salt and pepper, to taste

extra virgin olive oil

For the buttermilk smashed potatoes:

4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed clean and dried well {I like to leave the skins on in my mashed potatoes, as this is where the majority of the nutrients are found…not to mention, they’re full of flavor!}

1 to 1-1/2 C. low fat buttermilk

4 cloves garlic, finely grated or minced

salt and pepper, to taste

For the dijon gravy:

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, diced

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2-3 C. organic, low-sodium chicken stock

1/2 tsp. rosemary

2-3 tsp. dijon

extra virgin olive oil

so you aren’t waiting on the potatoes to boil, let’s first get a large pot of water going on the stove. We want a good, rolling boil!

Cook the chicken: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and drizzle with a hefty dose of olive oil. Add on the chicken and, with clean hands, sprinkle with  a generous amount of salt and pepper. Be sure to rub both sides, coating well! Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until juices run clear. Set aside, and cover tightly with foil to keep warm.

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While the chicken is cooking, prepare the potatoes to add into the boiling water.

Prepare the potatoes: Dice the potatoes into 1/2″ to 1″ cubes, making sure to ensure consistent cuts {tip: the smaller a dice you cut your potatoes into, the quicker they will cook!}. Add into the pot of boiling water, and cook until fork tender; this should take anywhere from 15-25 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Once ready, drain of all cooking liquid and return to the stovetop, turning the heat down to low or even off {you can always adjust the heat as needed to keep them warm}. Add in the minced garlic, lots of fresh cracked salt and pepper to your liking, and lastly the buttermilk. I find it helpful to start on the lower amount of liquid, adding in as necessary so they don’t become gummy. Mash with a large wooden spoon or potato masher, making sure to leave lots of good bumps and lumps! Cover and keep warm until the gravy is prepared.

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Prepare the gravy: In a medium saute pan, drizzle in a few good turns of olive oil. Add in the onion, and saute for 5-10 minutes or until translucent. Add in the garlic, salt and fresh cracked pepper, rosemary, and cook together until the flavors all merry, 3-5 minutes. Add in the butter and, once melted, sprinkle in the flour, whisking constantly to negate any lumps {you want your gravy to be nice and smooth}. Cook for 2-3 minutes, allowing the raw flavor of the flour to cook out. Slowly stream in the chicken stock, whisking briskly. Bring the gravy to a boil, and once thickened {it should coat the back of a spoon and leave a trail}, stir in the dijon mustard.

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I like to serve this dish in a large, rimmed pasta bowl….a heaping mound of hot smashed potatoes, with a perfectly cooked chicken breast nestled in, and all swimming in a pool of flavorful gravy.

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It’s truly like having your food give you a hug. Life doesn’t get much better, no?

tomato sauce with onion & butter

Let’s talk tomato sauce, shall we?

Tomatoes and I go way back. In elementary school, when all my friends were chomping down on apples in their lunch, I was “that girl” diving into a fresh tomato sprinkled with salt and pepper. My mom would cut the ends off, tupperware it, and send me on my way. To this day, a vine-ripened tomato is still one of my favorite snacks. Take a look at the nutritional information:

-low in sodium and carbohydrates

-chock full of Vitamins E, B6, A,C, and K

-a good source of Folate, Magnesium, and Potassiun

You can’t complain about chowing down on that, now can you?

To me, you can put tomatoes on anything and I will be as happy as can be. One thing in particular, one thing that I’ve always loved, is a good tomato sauce. And no, I’m not talking about any of the canned sauces you can pick up at the grocery store (I always thought that, no matter what the “flavor” was, that all canned sauces tasted the same!). I’m talking slow cooked, homemade, thesecretingredientislove kind of tomato sauce. When you know what is going into your sauce, and you know that it simmered away for hours, you’re getting the real deal. My mom had an arsenal of great sauces she would rotate through when we were growing up, and today, I’m going to introduce to my favorite one. Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter.

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It’s as simple as it sounds. San Marzano tomatoes are simmered low and slow with sweet white onions and unsalted butter, until the flavors marry and all you’re left with is a velvety smooth, rich, and luscious sauce. The combination of flavors is unmatched by any other sauce, in my opinion, and pairs well with any type of pasta. It is also amazing as the basis for any tomato-sauce-based casserole (think lasagna, baked ziti, etc.).

Be sure, when shopping for ingredients, that you use San Marzano tomatoes. These beauties have a stronger taste than regular Roma tomatoes, and are slightly sweeter and less acidic than their relatives. Many chefs consider these the best tomatoes to use in pastes, sauces, and the like – and in my humble opinion, I couldn’t agree more.

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Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter

This particular amount will make at least 4 servings; feel free to scale back on the amount if you’re only cooking for one or two. However, this sauce freezes so well, you’ll definitely want to make at least the size listed below. 

{“original” mom recipe, adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen}

Two 28 ounce cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes

2-3 tbsp. unsalted butter*

2 large white onions, halved

salt, to taste (I typically don’t use any)

In a medium saucepan, add the San Marzano tomatoes and their liquid, the halved onions, and the butter. Stir to combine. Bring the sauce to a vigorous simmer, but not to a boil. Scale back the heat, and simmer over low heat for about an hour. You’ll start to see the top shimmer with the melted butter, and the onions will turn soft and become translucent. Serve with your favorite pasta, fresh or packaged.

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*the link above uses slightly more butter than I call for in my recipe. I don’t feel that you need that much butter in the sauce; you want to taste it, certainly, but you also don’t want the flavor of the butter to overpower the lovely tomato and onion combination. Feel free to use as much, or as little, as you like!