Friday, July 25, 2014

Garden Tomato Orzo Salad

A veggie garden can be a forgiving place. For all its perceived delicateness and dependency on water and attention, it can also be remarkably resilient when ignored. Which is wonderful because sometimes life gets in the way, doesn't it. There's no doubt picnics in the park and trips to the beach get front billing during a little kid summer. Throw in trips to the library and our favourite museum and sometimes the backyard veggie patch can go a few days without a single watchful eye or attentive green thumb to care for it. But whenever this happens I marvel at the difference a few days makes and the progress that can come from simple sunshine, healthy soil and being left alone to stretch out in the warm summer afternoons. Tomatoes that were just starting to blush are now bursting with tender ripe redness and zucchinis that were small the last time I glanced their way now look like something you could hit a baseball with. Yes, the garden is a forgiving place. Like an old friend, we pick up where we left off except we've both done a little growing.
This delicious orzo salad is made with one of the garden's finest treasures: juicy ripe tomatoes. Tossed with fresh tender herbs, salty feta and a simple red wine vinaigrette, it dresses up grilled steaks, sausages, chicken or even burgers and dogs. Make ahead and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Garden Tomato Orzo Salad (with feta and fresh herbs)
Makes 6-8 side servings

2 cups (500 mL) dried orzo pasta
2 cups (500 mL) halved or quartered cherry/grape tomatoes (about 1 inch pieces)
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped tender herbs such as dill, basil, cilantro or parsley
2/3 cup (150 mL) crumbled or cubed feta
1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil
3 tbsp (50 mL) red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp (5 mL) prepared Dijon mustard
1 tsp (5 mL) liquid honey

Boil the orzo in salted water for 6 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool running water. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the cooked orzo, tomatoes, herbs and feta. In a container with a lid, shake together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, Dijon and honey. Pour the vinaigrette over the orzo salad, saving a little in the container. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Toss with the reserved vinaigrette before serving.

What do you love to make with fresh garden tomatoes?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dill Cheddar Bread

I'd love to say I don't turn to the oven on when it's hot out, but that's not completely true. I avoid it. But sometimes the urge to bake wins out and on it goes. Which is a good thing because when you think about it summer is one of the best times to bake. The pies, the tarts, the crumbles and the crisps; it would hardly be summer without them. I suppose homemade bread could be seen as more of a fall/winter baking project, but who bloody cares. Good bread is good bread any time.

This recipe starts with activating the yeast with warm water. Then the flour, cheddar and dill are stirred in to form a dough. Kneading is kept to a minimum, and the hot-from-the-oven results are fluffy and delicious. 

Sandwich, anyone? Get the recipe below.

Dill Cheddar Bread
Makes 1 sandwich loaf

2 cups (500 mL) warm water (not hot)
2 1/2 tsp (12 mL) instant yeast
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
up to 4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated sharp Cheddar
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) dried dill weed

Pour the warm water into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast and allow to stand for 5 minutes to proof (the yeast should bloom a little on the water's surface). Stir in the salt and 2 cups (500 mL) of the flour just until absorbed. Stir in the Cheddar and dill. Continue stirring in the remaining 2 cups (500 mL) of flour gradually just until the dough is almost no longer sticky (you may not use up all the flour). Push the dough down with the palm of your hand and fold the dough over. Keep repeating this step, kneading for 2 minutes. Form the dough into a short loaf shape and press into a greased loaf pan. Cover with a clean dish towel and set aside for 1 hour to rise. Once risen above the rim, bake in a preheated 400 F/200 C oven for 40 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip out onto a cooling rack.

What's happening in your oven this week?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What to do with large pickling cucumbers

So, life gets busy sometimes and I left some pickling cucumbers on the plants too long in the garden. Oops! But not to worry. Although they tend to have larger, more plentiful seeds, softball-sized pickling cukes make great sandwich slicers. I mean, who doesn't want a crunchy pickle that covers the whole burger patty? No one, that's who.

Yesterday's harvest of mature pickling cucumbers became four 1 L (4 cup/1 quart) jars of sandwich slicers in brine seasoned with whole garlic cloves and dill seed. These will come in handy when it's time to start making school lunches again.

It's true, you know, sometimes procrastination pays off.

How's your summer veggie garden coming along? Leave a comment and tell me all about what you're growing...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

No-Bake Cheesecakes in a Jar

You've really got to love friends who feed you well. You know who they are; they bring the yummiest dishes to any potluck, throw together a holiday feast like it's nothing (even including unplanned guests at the last minute), and whip up a guacamole snack at a moment's notice because, well, they just keep those ingredients in their house as standard practice. Yes, a feed-me-well friend is a good thing to have, not just because you get to benefit from their culinary skills, but because their passion ups your own game in the kitchen, constantly inspiring you to try something new and different.
I've known my feed-me-well friend longer than anyone else I know on the Island. We met just days after I first arrived in Victoria ten years ago, and her chatty nature made me feel comfortable right away. She's still one of my closest friends for many reasons. She's funny, honest with me, and passionately loyal to the people she cares about. The fact that she's one of the best cooks I know is just a bonus.
On one of my recent visits to her home she'd made these incredible little cheesecakes in a jar. They were so good. Creamy, fruity, and painfully cute. I couldn't stop thinking about them, so I sent her a message for the recipe. She told me she didn't have the recipe, but she'd put in some of this and some of that. Well, I've experimented in my own kitchen with this and that and here is my version of my feed-me-well friend's cheesecakes in a jar.
Thanks, Cookie! You're a star.
No-Bake Cheesecakes in a Jar
Makes six 250 mL (1 cup) jars OR a dozen 125 mL (1/2 cup) jars
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) graham crumbs
2 tbsp (30 mL) brown sugar
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup (125 mL) cream cheese
1/4 cup (60 mL) liquid honey
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
Zest of half a lemon
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) jam (any flavour)
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the graham crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir again. Spoon the crumbs evenly into the jars. To make the filling, beat the yogurt, cream cheese, honey, vanilla and lemon zest at full speed for 2 minutes until smooth. Spoon the filling evenly into the jars on top of the crumbs. For the topping, spoon the jam evenly on top of the filling in each jar. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour before serving, or make a day ahead.
Do you have a feed-me-well friend? Leave a comment then go make them some cheesecakes in a jar...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dishwasher Diaries: Shhh!

Disclosure: For the purposes of this miniseries, KitchenAid Canada provided me with one of their 6-Cycle/6-Option dishwashers at no cost to myself. Opinions are my own.
Dear Dishwasher Diary,
Life with kids is as noisy as it is messy. My two boys keep the volume level on full in our little house, and I often find myself asking them to settle down, calm down and turn it down. I get that they're just being kids, and I recognize full well the hypocrisy of me shouting "You're being too loud!" but there you have it. 
Mr. Feedbag has a 3-layers-of-sound theory. One person talking is fine. One person talking with a TV on and we're okay. But one person talking, a TV on and the kids rapping about bodily functions is just one layer too much. I have to live in this house too, and any opportunity I can get to minimize the constant racket in the house, the better.
My new KitchenAid dishwasher with its Whisper Quiet System means one less layer of sound in our busy home. I like knowing my dishes are being expertly washed and dried behind the sleek stainless steel door with its stylish heritage-feel Ultra Handle, but the premium sound insulation means I don't need to hear it happening. I'm okay knowing the PowerScrub jets and ProDry feature are getting the job done in industry-leading fashion without the sounds of spraying and swooshing to interrupt the interview on the kitchen radio. Even the SatinGlide racks are as quiet as can be when I'm loading it up. Most importantly, there's no sacrifice of cleaning power for quiet dishwashing.

As I type this, Diary, the kids are climbing on the furniture. The oldest one is wrestling his screaming face into a sleeping bag, while the youngest is jumping around shouting BOOM SMASH! I know it's normal for a family home to be noisy, Diary, but I'm so thankful that washing dishes doesn't have to add another layer of sound.
How noisy is your house? Do you have loud appliances? How do you keep the noise level down in your busy family home?

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