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Fall Greens for Comfort

The calendar says it is still fall, however, the temperatures outside say that winter is here.  I love the cooler weather and I love the fall vegetables even more.  Needless to say, I have quite a few favorites for my fall comfort foods.

Today is for Kale.  Curly, leafy, dark-green, wonderful Kale.  Steamed alone or used in soups and stews, kale is a wonderful vegetable to add to your diet.  Filled with vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, iron, vitamin B-6 and magnesium, and more,  this leafy green adds a powerful nutritional punch to your meals.  I actually crave this veggie on occasion!  So I decided to cook it much like I do spinach, with plenty of garlic and onions and a little olive oil!

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First chop half of a sweet onion in smaller chunks, then finely chop 3 cloves of garlic and sauté over low heat in extra virgin olive oil until the onions sweat and are clear.

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While the onions and garlic sauté, slice up a green onion (also known as scallions) including the white bulb.  Add this to the onion and garlic mixture and sauté together. 

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Wash and pat dry a nice bunch of fresh kale.  Roughly chop into smaller pieces, taking care to remove any stems that may be tough.  Pile this into the pan on top of the onions and garlic and toss together.  Watch closely as it begins to wilt.  I take care not to let it get too dark.  Which is why I put about 1/3 cup of water into the greens and put a lid on it briefly.  If you get distracted and let it sit a little too long, they don’t remain a bright green, which is how I prefer my greens. (Note in the photo below….I got distracted by two trouble maker feline children and my greens got a little too dark,) Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

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Cyn’s Steamed Kale

1/2 medium sweet onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large bunch kale, washed, pat dry and roughly chopped with stems removed

1 large stalk green onion, finely chopped, including the white bulb

pinch Kosher salt

1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/3 c. water

Sauté onion, garlic and green onion in extra virgin olive oil until soft.  Add chopped greens and toss together.  Pour water over greens and let steam in lidded pan until greens begin to turn really bright.  Add pinch kosher salt and black pepper.  Watch closely so greens don’t overcook and turn dark.  Remove from heat and remove lid.  Lightly toss into a serving bowl and enjoy.

It doesn’t matter what anyone says, but nothing beats a nice big bowl of greens on a cold wintery day!  Bon Appetit!

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Spring Peaks Through Winter

For the first time in many years, we experienced a little of that Artic Blast last week and I have to say, I have not been that COLD in years!  We saw temperatures below zero and with wind chill, it just cut through my bones like a knife.  Granted, we did not suffer as badly as some of our neighbors to the north of us, but it was still cold! Our ground was covered in snow and ice for a couple of days until the sun finally melted it all.

While I enjoyed it a tiny bit, a part of me was excited to see the birds arrive this weekend.  It only means that Spring is on its way and warmer temperatures will be here once again.  I will then be able to get outside and play in the dirt!  This year, I need to revamp my garden layout and make some big changes with what I want to do.  So I am looking forward to warmer weather!

My yard was just alive with birds yesterday…Robins, Blue Jays, Wrens, Sparrows, and Cardinals.  Following the snow we had earlier this week, it was a rainy, dreary day brightened only by the choir of birds that came by.  Since they all know I keep bird seed available for them, they always stop by for a visit.  I grabbed the camera and camped out waiting for them.  After refilling the dish with some bird seed, it didn’t take long before I was rewarded with a visit from my little feathered friends! 

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One that I haven’t seen in a very long time is the Blue Jay.  While they are quite annoying as birds go, I think they are beautiful and have some gorgeous markings.  And yes, he did chase off the other birds, but once he had his fill of the food, everything was fine and everybody came back.

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He was a little showman for me and in my excitement I nearly scared him off myself!

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Papa Cardinal arrived for his share of the feast.

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Not to be outdone, Mama wanted a bite, too.

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One last friend, the Mockingbird arrived and our visits were done for the day.

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Soon I’ll be out shopping for a new feeder as mine has seen better days and this year, I hope to capture a hummingbird on film!  Until then, stay warm and count the days until Spring!

Red Quinoa Summer Salad

Quinoa has been around for a long time, but I have been slow to try it!  In my part of the world, sometimes it can be hard to find certain items or if it is to be found, the selections are quite limited.  I ended up buying this online for several reasons with one being that it is organic.  It is Eden Foods Organic Red Quinoa.  Then because I was uncertain what to do with it, I just let it sit for a while.  A few days to be exact!  Then after talking to a few friends who eat quinoa regularly, I had a better idea of how to use this mystifying grain.

One friend suggested I try it for breakfast.  She eats it every morning like a hot cereal or oatmeal.  So I did on a weekend since this has to cook for a few minutes.  I tried mine with a little molasses.  It was delicious and I did not get hungry for 5 hours!

You can use quinoa to make veggie burgers, vegetarian meatballs and so many other things, but one idea that interested me most was the cold quinoa salad.  I love salad.  Lately, I’ve been eating a salad at least 5-6 times per week.  And for me, the busy week makes me keep everything very simple.  So here is my version of a Quinoa Salad.  I hope you like it!

Quinoa Salad

 

Red Quinoa Summer Salad

Cook the red quinoa according to the directions on the package and then chill for at least 24 hours.

1-2 medium cucumbers, seeded and cut into small chunks

1-medium tomato, seeded and cut into small cubes

1-2 tbsp. feta

Vinaigrette dressing – click here for the recipe

Once the quinoa is thoroughly chilled, toss with cucumbers, tomatoes, and vinaigrette.  Sprinkle feta in and mix well without breaking up the chunks of feta.  Chill for about 30 minutes so the flavors can marinate together.

Serve as a side dish or main meal.

This is such a refreshing salad!  I’m sure it will be reinvented often in my kitchen!

Bon Appetit!

Stuffed Zucchini Boats

This is probably my favorite time of year when it comes to fresh food.  Gardens are in full swing and every weekend weeds must be evicted from them.  Despite the weeds, the bounty that a garden yields can last the rest of the year if planned in advance.

The other day a friend of mine gave me a big bag of zucchini and summer squash from her garden.  And while watching my weekly recordings of cooking shows, I was inspired by Jamie Deen’s zucchini boats.  He stuffed his with Vidalia onions, sausage and tomatoes and cheese.  Mine are a vegetarian version, but all in all, they are so good that it didn’t take long to wolf mine down!

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Begin by roasting your zucchini in the oven.  Wash and cut them lengthwise – I snipped of the stem ends as well.  Spray your baking sheet with non-stick spray then drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil.  Lay the zucchini flat down, sprinkle a little grey sea salt over them and roast just until tender.

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Set the zucchini aside for a few minutes until cool to the touch.  Using a small spoon, gently scrape/scoop out the center until they resemble long boats and set aside.  See the photo above.

While these are cooling, get your stuffing ingredients together.

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Finely dice a Vidalia onion and sauté in extra virgin olive oil.  One the onions have sweat and turn clear, add the finely diced sweet bell pepper.

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Then add your veggie burger or other choice of meat.  Add a pinch of onion powder, a couple shakes (dashes) of Worcestershire sauce.  Cook until meat is done.

Add a pinch of grated parmesan and cheddar cheeses and a handful of Panko bread crumbs.  Stir together and begin stuffing the zucchini boats.

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Return them to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

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I served these alongside roasted potato halves and yellow squash that I topped with diced up fresh tomatoes and a little parmesan.  The actual recipe is below.  Keep in mind that the measurements are approximate as I do not measure when I cook.

Stuffed Zucchini Boats

2 Large Zucchini, washed well, ends trimmed and cut lengthwise

1 small Vidalia onion, finely diced

1 small Sweet Bell pepper, finely diced

Choice of ground burger, turkey or veggie burger

(I used about 1/4 cup of veggie burger crumbles)

Grey Sea Salt, to taste

Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste

1/4 cup Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

1/4 cup Freshly grated Cheddar Cheese

A couple dashes of Worcestershire Sauce

Pinch of onion powder

1-2 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash zucchini well, trim off stem ends and cut lengthwise. Spray baking sheet with non-stick spray and drizzle with olive oil.  Lay zucchini face-down and sprinkle lightly with a pinch of grey sea salt.  Roast until just tender.  Remove from the oven and let cool to the touch.  While still warm, using a small spoon, scoop out the centers making boats.  Set aside.

Sauté the onion and green bell pepper in extra virgin olive oil, add meat of choice and cook thoroughly.  Add a handful of Panko bread crumbs, big pinch of grated cheddar and grated parmesan cheeses.  Stir well and let cheese melt a little.  Spoon into zucchini boats and top with a sprinkle of grated parmesan and cheddar cheeses.  Put back in the oven and bake until the cheese melts.

For serving size, you can have one big zucchini half or two small halves per person.

Serve up and enjoy!

Simple Vinaigrette

Once you start making your own salad dressings and marinades, you’ll never want to go back to the store-bought bottled stuff!  At least that is how it is for me.  I’ve been making my own dressings for years and love it.  It’s so easy that anyone can do it!

Start by choosing the type of vinegar that you want to use.  My pantry and fridge usually has a nice variety of vinegars just waiting to be used!

Distilled vinegar – no specific flavor, just the regular vinegar without any pop to it

Raspberry red wine vinegar – pleasant fruity vinegar

Apple Cider vinegar – rich, sweet flavor to the vinegar, mild fruity flavor

Balsamic Vinegar – very strong, bold taste

Vinaigrette

To make it easy on yourself, purchase one of those salad dressing cruets at your local market.  They sit on the shelf by the powdered dressing mixes in the condiment aisle at your grocery store.  On the side of the glass are raised markings showing you just how much vinegar or citrus juice, water and oil to put in your dressing.  Once you get really good at it, you won’t need the markings and can just whip up a dressing in a bowl.  I now use these to store my dressings when I make more than I need for just one salad.

This particular vinaigrette will be paired with a quinoa summer salad.  Keep in mind these measurements are all approximate as I don’t measure exactly.

Cyn’s Vinaigrette

Seasonings:

1-1/2 tsp. minced onion

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. minced garlic or garlic powder

1 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

big pinch dried parsley

Liquid:

about 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

about 3-4 tbsp water

about 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil or your oil of choice

Whisk all together in a dish until well blended or place in a cruet and shake well.  Pour over salad greens and toss.

Enjoy!

Easy Leftover Lentil Cheddar Patties

Digging through my fridge, I came across some bits and pieces of items that needed to be used up and decided it was time for some homemade veggie burgers!  Since we had lentils a couple days before, it just made sense to use up the little bit that was left.

If you keep your refrigerator stocked and your pantry stocked with certain staples all the time, you can create something “new” for dinner!  So, as you may already know, I don’t measure when I cook, so these measurements are approximates and you may need to adjust for your taste.

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Ingredients:

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, sliced on the diagonal, julienned and chopped into small pieces

1/4 green bell pepper, finely chopped

1/4 red bell pepper, finely chopped

1/2 cup leftover lentil stoup (very thick soup)

3/4 of 1 package Town House crackers crumbled OR 2-3 slices whole wheat bread torn into fine pieces

1/2 cup finely grated cheddar cheese or whatever cheese you have

1/2 tsp. garlic powder or 2-cloves fresh garlic finely chopped

1/2 tsp. onion powder

large pinch parsley leaves, dried – if you have fresh, finely chop about 1/4 cup

(since the stoup and crackers are already seasoned, you won’t need to add any further salt)

2 farm fresh eggs

In a large bowl (see photo above) mix together all the ingredients until well blended.

Taking a quart size canning lid, spray with non-stick spray.

Spoon patty mixture into the canning lid. Press into the lid to shape the patty.

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Turn into a heated cast iron past that has been lightly oiled with pure extra-virgin olive oil.

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Cook on each side until lightly browned. 

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This recipe made me six patties that fit perfectly on a medium sized hamburger bun or as we did, eat it as your protein side-dish that can be served alongside a salad and dinner as pictured below.  This dinner plate has garlic shells and corn paired with the lentil patty.

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Enjoy!

All The Presidents’ Homes–Part 3

This morning is pretty much like the morning that Jeff and I visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.  It was grey, it was cold and it was rainy.  The sun wasn’t out making it feel colder than it was. But even in the grey, gloomy mist, Monticello shone brightly, surrounded by the beauty of the blooming flowers around her.

Thomas-Jefferson

Best known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, our third President was also a historian, philosopher, and plantation owner who served his country as a public official for more than five decades.  Thomas Jefferson was also the author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and founder of the University of Virginia.

Son of Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph, he inherited a sizeable estate from his father and at the age of 26, began building Monticello.  Just three years later he married Martha Wayles Skelton.  They had six children with only two surviving to adulthood.  Sadly they only had 10 years together when she died.  Jefferson never remarried and continued to maintain Monticello as his home for the rest of his life.  He was always expanding and changing it.  He also inherited slaves from his father and father-in-law and owned about 200 slaves, about half of whom were under the age of 16.

Jefferson spent his adult life in public service whether as a lawyer, Governor of Virginia from 1779 go 1781, Trade Commissioner in France (1784) and then as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister, and Secretary of State under George Washington in 1790 and after a loss in the presidential race against John Adams, becomes Vice President in 1796. A two-term President, Jefferson defeated John Adams just four years later to become President of the United States in 1780. After his friend, James Madison, succeeds him as President in 1809, Jefferson lives the remaining 17 years of his life at Monticello.  It was during this time he sold his books to begin the Library of Congress collection and founded the University of Virginia at the age of 76.  He led the legislative campaign for its charter, secured the location, designed the buildings and planned the curriculum and also served as the first rector.

Jefferson dies at the age of 83 on July 4, 1826, just hours before his friend, John Adams and also on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

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Jefferson’s beloved Monticello sits nestled in the mountaintop hills southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia, just down the road from the home of his friend, President James Madison. Open every day of the year except Christmas Day, Monticello’s hours gives you a choice of when you want to visit her.  We chose to visit in the early Spring month of April and while on our honeymoon several years ago.

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Construction of Monticello began in 1769 and the original design had fourteen rooms in the home which included the six in the cellar, five on the first floor and three on the second.  In 1796, Jefferson began work on a new design for remodeling and enlarging the house and was completed by 1809.  There are not a total of 43 rooms in the entire structure which includes 33 in the house itself and 4 in the Pavilions and 6 under the South Terrace.

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The ride on the bus from the Visitor’s Center to the house atop the hill is impressive, even in the rain! Of course, the excitement was building for me as I’d never been to Monticello.  No photography is allowed inside the house, so we decided to walk the grounds first before going on the tour.  All the photography and video you want to take is allowed on the grounds as long as it’s for personal use. 

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Tulips, pansies and bluebells line the walkways in the West Lawn garden. I saw varieties there that, for me, had only existed in books prior to our visit.  Needless to say, I wanted pictures of them all!

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Deep oranges, yellows, reds and whites and many more colors as well as other flowers can be found all over the grounds.  Lilac bushes, pansies…this is a flower gardener’s dream!

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We loved the rain drops on the flowers and tired to capture them on camera as beautiful as they were in person.

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Pansies are another one of my favorite flowers.

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Jefferson used the grounds of Monticello as a botanical laboratory utilizing not only the ornamental but also useful plants from all over the world. These flower gardens were not cared for by professionals but by his daughters and granddaughters and sometimes an elderly slave.

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I have always loved the reds and yellows of tulips, but the bi-colored ones hold a really special place for me.

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This is the fish pond where Jefferson’s cook would “catch” the fish for dinner.  Thus allowing them to have fresh fish at their meals.

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About one-third of the windows are original to the house.  They are nice, big and allow a lot of sunlight into the rooms.  And they are absolutely beautiful from the outside!

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From it’s beginning in 1770, the vegetable garden evolved over many years.  This 1,000-foot-long terrace was literally cut from the side of the mountain by slave labor and is supported by a massive rock wall.  At the half-way point is the infamous garden pavilion with its double sash windows.  This was used by Jefferson as a quiet retreat in the evenings.  Reportedly blown down in a violent storm in the late 1820s, the pavilion was reconstructed in 1984 through the use of Jefferson’s notes and archeological excavations.

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Jefferson was quite observant of the natural world.  He was always studying and recording, with remarkable detail, the events of the gardens.  In 1812, the twenty-four “squares” that divided the garden were arranged in part as to which part of the plant was being harvested: fruits, roots or leaves, etc.  And although the garden was a functional part of the plantation, Jefferson experimented with imported squashes and other vegetables and fruits from various parts of Europe.

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It was interesting to learn that Jefferson ate very little meat and used it as a compliment to the vegetables and legumes from his own gardens.  I loved the fact that salads were an important part of his diet as they are for me as well!

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Exiting from the house, you will step onto a beautiful walkway that leads into the garden.

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We loved our visit at Monticello and learned so much about Jefferson’s life here.  If you ever get the chance to visit Monticello, you should.  It’s well worth the afternoon.