Monthly Archives: August 2009

lunch of choice

I try to keep things pretty simple around here. Its not too difficult, since Bella Eats truly is a reflection of mine and Brian’s life. We both work full 40-50 hour weeks, getting home around 6:30 each evening ready for a glass of wine and a quick, delicious meal. By the time we change out of our work clothes, play with the pups and perform a little garden maintenance, its nearly 7:00 and the sun is starting to sink behind the trees. To avoid eating at ridiculously late hours (which does still happen on occasion) we must keep our weekly dinners as uncomplicated as possible.

Hummus Merge 1

I take pride in the fact that we don’t keep a lot of pre-packaged food in our house. If you open our freezer you’ll find some vegetables, a TON of fruit (blackberries from our garden and peach slices from the local orchard), some veggie scraps and a pork shoulder bone waiting to be made into broth, homemade everything bagels, a few varieties of muffins and a loan box of Kashi 7-Grain Waffles (a vice – I love them). What you won’t find are Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine or Skillet Sensations dinners. I firmly believe that everybody has time to make a quick, healthy and delicious meal for themselves and their family, if you just keep your fridge and pantry stocked with some key items. I won’t list those items in this post (are you even interested?!?) but I will give you links to a few of the quick, simple meals we’ve made in the past:

Vegetable Fried Rice
Trio of Salads and Whole Wheat Flatbread
Pasta with Sausage and Greens
Crockpot Minestrone
Chicken Tostadas
Raw Kale Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Hummus-4

This simple approach to evening meals extends to lunch as well. On most days, Brian and I will come home to eat. We are lucky enough to live just 2.5 miles from the office where we work (yes, together!) and enjoy the afternoon break from our computers almost as much as our dogs enjoy being let out for some mid-day fetch. Sometimes we’ll have leftovers from the night before, but more often we’ll make ham sandwiches or simple PB + J’s with our plethora of jam. Lunch at home is relaxing and much less expensive than anything we could purchase from the many restaurants downtown.

Hummus-6

Lately, my lunch of choice has been tomato and hummus sandwiches served on rustic bread, occasionally with a slice of high-quality ham from Double H Farm or some cured meat from Feast. But really, all you need is the good bread, fresh summer tomatoes and homemade hummus to make a very satisfying sandwich. This is special hummus though, blended with mustard flavored by spicy chipotle peppers.   The mustard I used is a Saucy Mama product, and I think it has been our absolute favorite of all the condiments sent to us for the recipe contest I am participating in. We’re almost out, and will definitely be purchasing more when it is available in our area. I love that it still holds the tanginess of the classic yellow spread, but adds a spice very unlike the creole and dijon mustards we typically have on our refrigerator door.

Hummus-3

Maybe I shouldn’t call this condiment hummus, since it does not contain any tahini. Perhaps “chickpea spread” is more appropriate.  No matter what you call it, I hope you’ll make it.  Its simple, quick, healthy – and more than likely you’ve got all of the ingredients on hand.  If you try other mustards, please let me know how they turn out. I’ve been pretty hooked on this one and haven’t been able to stray…

Chipotle Mustard Hummus

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15oz) can of garbonzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp Saucy Mama Chipotle Mustard, or other spicy mustard
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. Place garbonzo beans, mustard and lemon juice in the small bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to chop garbonzo beans.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  Turn processor on and slowly add olive oil while continuing to process.  Turn off processor and scrape down sides of bowl.  Process again, continuously, for 2-3 minutes until you have a smooth, creamy consistency.
  2. Serve on tomato sandwiches or enjoy alone with crackers.

Hummus-5

Also, I have two more bottles of Saucy Mama Lime Chipotle Marinade to give away! To my two readers who won the last give-away, your sauce is coming. I promise. For some reason I’ve had a difficult time making it to the post office lately…  If you are interested in trying out this great sauce, leave a comment before my next post.

tostada1

bella terra: pick-me-up

When I bought three raspberry plants (two red, one golden) from my local nursery last year I had no idea what to expect. We’d had mixed luck with berries – the blackberry bush we’d planted the year before was showing a lot of promise for its second summer but the blueberry bush we’d put in 3 years prior hadn’t grown a bit and typically yielded a harvest of only one dozen berries each season. I was taking a chance, but the raspberry plants were inexpensive and I was determined to have long branches loaded with berries twining through the fence surrounding our garden.

RasMuffins - Merge 1

We got lucky.  Their first year the raspberries didn’t do much.  We were rewarded with a couple of small handfuls of fruit – really only enough to snack on as you wandered through the garden checking on other plants, certainly not enough to actually do something with.  But this year – the berries’ second year – has been quite the surprise.  Maybe its because I wasn’t expecting much from them, or maybe its that their location in the garden is a bit out of the way, but just a few weeks ago I was shocked (shocked!) to discover that the raspberry branches had reached clear out of their intended boundaries and were loaded (loaded!) with plump berries.  I wish I could show you photos of their progress, but the general unruliness of the garden has left me embarrassed to share the evidence.

RasMuffins-8

Its hard to not get excited about being in the kitchen, concocting new recipes when your fridge has a constantly rotating bowl full of red raspberries, golden raspberries and blackberries.   Unless, like me last week, you come down with a bug right in the middle of berry season.  It was nothing too serious, but provided enough sour feelings to keep me completely out of the kitchen and away from the blog. I had no interest in cooking food, writing about food or editing images of food for five full days. It was all I could do to get the tomato soup post up Tuesday night, and the next day I couldn’t even bring myself to read comments because the mere thought of tomatoes gave me a queazy feeling. Finally, on Saturday, as I was laying on a towel in the middle of our living room floor after a particularly hard 4-mile run, thoughts of homemade muffins popped into my head.

RasMuffins-4

I jumped up, so excited to have the urge to bake without a queazy feeling following along behind that urge. It was getting worrisome, this lack of desire to stand at my kitchen counter, because I had promised some dear friends that I would make cupcakes for their daughter’s third birthday party the next day. And, we had raspberries. Several bowls of raspberries freshly picked from our garden just waiting to be folded into muffin batters and buttercream frostings and made into jam (peach + raspberry = yum!). The opportunities were endless, yet until Saturday I’d done nothing to seize them.

RasMuffins-7

These little raspberry almond muffins pulled me out of my funk, with some help from Ellie Krieger, whose book I had picked up at the library a few weeks prior. They are hearty, made with a mix of all-purpose and whole-grain flours, and pack nice little raspberry punches into each bite.  Made moist by applesauce instead of butter, and topped with a crunchy cinnamon and almond topping, they provide an adequate amount of sweetness countered by the slightly tart raspberries – a sure pick-me-up for any slow morning or afternoon.  I’ve frozen a bunch of them to use as my own little weapon against future kitchen blues…

RasMuffins-5

Raspberry-Almond Muffins

makes 16 muffins

adapted from Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave, Apple-Pecan Muffins, pg 22

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped finely
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-grain pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup natural unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup fat free buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400*.  Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray, along with 4 wells in a second muffin pan.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tbsp of the brown sugar, the almonds and the cinnamon.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar and the oil until combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition.  Whisk in the applesauce and vanilla.  Stir in the flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk, just until combined.  Gently stir in the raspberries.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each about 2/3’s full, and sprinkle evenly with almond mixture.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
  6. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

RasMuffins - Merge 2

What about those cupcakes I mentioned before?  Well, I made these again, along with a vanilla version for the adorable 3-year-old’s birthday party.  They were a big hit with the young-uns, but I think the adults enjoyed them even more…

Cupcakes-Merge

Other Bella Terra posts this season:

Bella Terra: Preparation

Bella Terra: Chives

Bella Terra: Herbs

Bella Terra: Sugar Snaps

Bella Terra: Red Beets

Bella Terra: Kale

Bella Terra: Cucumbers

Bella Terra: Blackberries

Bella Terra: Tomatoes, Part 1

bella terra: tomatoes, part 1

You might remember that peaches claimed the number one spot on my “favorite summer produce” list.  But I must say, it was a close, close race.  In fact, Brian and I agreed that the attributes we loved most about both peaches and tomatoes were mostly the same. Both taste infinitely better during their season than at any other point in the year.  The personal acquisition of each (peaches from the orchard, tomatoes from our garden) guarantees a freshness and minimization of the bruises that these fragile fruits usually have when gathered from the grocery store, not to mention warm + fuzzy memories of time spent with your honey.  And finally, both peaches and tomatoes are so very summer.  In the end, I think it was my sweet tooth and Brian’s lack thereof that determined each of our favorites.

tomatosoup1 (1)

The ripening of tomatoes in our garden is a bittersweet time for me.  Sweet, because we look forward to the juicy yellow, orange and red fruits from the time we plant the seedlings in mid-May, and bitter because it signals the beginning of the end – the downward slide of summer into fall.  Especially this year, when our harvest season has been cut so short by the blight claiming tomatoes across the Northeast.  Brian and I noticed it early this year, the slow yellowing then browning and shriveling of the lowest branches on our plants.  Eventually, the plants become skeletons of their former selves, with sad tomatoes hanging desperately to branches for as long as they can.  We learned this year that there is no way to avoid the fungus, especially since we have a strict no-spray rule, and if we want a full harvest season next year we need to plant a succession of tomatoes every 4 weeks starting in May and ending in July.  Lesson learned.

tomatosoup merge 1

Despite the blight, we have had way too many tomatoes to handle all at once, just not enough for all of the canned sauces and salsas we had planned.  We’ve had countless tomato mozzarella salads, tomato + hummus + ham sandwiches, roasted tomato pastas and just plain tomato slices sprinkled with salt and eaten while standing over the kitchen sink, juice dripping from our hands.  Friends and neighbors have been lucky recipients of our extras – and in fact our guests last weekend claimed our house as the best “bed and breakfast” they’d stayed at as they loaded their car with a bag of heirloom tomatoes and a jar of homemade jam.  In return, they shared a recipe for Heirloom Tomato Soup that was not only delicious, but a great way to use up large quantities of our bounty.

tomatosoup merge 2

We made it the next night, and I was pleased after my first taste to find that it was reminiscent of a favorite tomato basil soup I enjoyed at a local Greek restaurant while in graduate school – rich and creamy, with a nice spice that hits the back of your throat after each bite.  It was wonderful with fresh heirloom tomatoes from the garden, but I also look forward to trying it with canned tomatoes in the winter when I need a little reminder of warmer days.   For me, tomato soup has no particular season – I’ll take it any time of the year.

tomatosoup06 (1)

This soup is the grown-up version of a childhood favorite, and pairs perfectly with grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches.  We made ours with a fresh french baguette, jarslberg cheese and salty soprassata – but feel free to use whatever soft cheese and cured meat makes you happiest.

Creamy Heirloom Tomato Soup

I adapted this recipe from a friend’s adaptation of a Cooking Light recipe.  The original didn’t use any cream, which I’m sure would be good, but the cream makes it oh, so delicious…

serves 4 for dinner with a salad or sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional – use more or less to suit your tastes)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped finely
  • 6 large heirloom tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 2 (28oz) cans whole tomatoes, if you make this in any season other than summer)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 large slices good quality bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup light cream
  • salt and ground pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, thyme, basil and red pepper flakes, stirring until onions are translucent.
  2. Add tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, until tomatoes start to break down.  Using wooden spoon, mash tomatoes against side of pot to release juices.
  3. Stir in sugar and bread, stirring occasionally until bread starts to break down, about 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer soup to a blender in batches and puree’ until smooth and creamy (if you have an immersion blender, feel free to use it in the soup pot).  Return soup to pot and stir in chicken broth and cream.  Reheat, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve with mini grilled jarlsberg and sopressata sandwiches, if desired.

tomatosoup09 (1)

We’ve been eating a LOT of tomatoes in our house, so stay tuned for more Bella Terra: Tomato posts…

SRtomatoes-1-2

And, the Bella Eats Jam winner is…JENNY (comment #7)!  Send me an email at bellaeats[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll get your jam out to you this week.  If I don’t hear from Jenny, I’ll select another winner randomly in my next post.

Other Bella Terra posts this season:

Bella Terra: Preparation

Bella Terra: Chives

Bella Terra: Herbs

Bella Terra: Sugar Snaps

Bella Terra: Red Beets

Bella Terra: Kale

Bella Terra: Cucumbers

Bella Terra: Blackberries

bella terra: blackberry jam, anyone?

I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to talk about jam this summer! Here it is, mid-August, the blackberries are nearing the end of another extremely productive season and I am just now sharing these recipes with you. It seems that our bush quadrupled in size from last year, and the bounty we’ve received reflects that growth. I am giddy thinking of next year’s harvest, since the new growth taking over our fence and gate will bear what surely must be another quadrupling of this year’s numbers. Oh, the possibilities.

jam11 (1)

I must admit, I’m somewhat happy to see this blackberry season come to an end. In just a couple of weeks I’ll be able to cut back all of this year’s fruited wood, and will have the space needed to train the new growth and reclaim our entrance to the garden. Blackberries bear fruit on the previous year’s growth, so as the new arms have reached out into any space they could creep to, we’ve been powerless to do anything about them. I can’t bear the thought of cutting any of them back, for fear of what that would do to next year’s harvest, but I will be very grateful to not have to play limbo to pass through the garden gate.

jam10 (1)

I’ve actually shared this recipe with you before, in the springtime when Florida strawberries hit Virginia stores and I couldn’t help buying multiple quarts. Molly’s jam recipe is really the only one you need, as it can be modified to use any variety of fruit available at any time of the year. And modify we have, for Brian and I have been jam-making machines this last month. We wanted to preserve as much of the summertime bounty as we could, and since our blackberry bush has produced approximately two dozen quarts of deep purple berries in just 30-days time, jam seemed like an obvious solution. We’ve also frozen half a dozen quarts for use through the fall and winter (its doubtful they’ll make it to spring), made a couple of pastries and plenty of smoothies.

jam6 (1)

But our favorite use of our overabundance of the sweet-tart fruit has been jam. So far we’ve tried three different varieties with our blackberries, and we have a few more in mind to try out this weekend. The peaches we’ve been picking have come in handy too, providing a natural sweetness that allows us to cut the sugar used in the original recipe. We’ve been eating jam on biscuits, waffles, pancakes, almond butter sandwiches and even pork tenderloin as a delicious glaze. We have jars upon jars stored up in our pantry, waiting to be given to friends or consumed by us over the next 11 months.

jam9

In fact, one lucky reader will receive a 6oz jar of Bella Eats Jam to enjoy! Just leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite jam/preserves/jelly flavor. Who knows, maybe you’ll see your flavor featured after our next experimentation!   I’ll announce the winner on my next post, so comment away until then.

jam4 (1)

Blackberry Jam with Peaches or Plums

adapted from Molly Wizenburg via Epicurious

Ingredients:

  • 8oz fresh blackberries
  • 2 pounds fresh plums or peaches, peeled and chopped
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups sugar, depending on sweetness of peaches / plums
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

Method:

  1. To peel peaches and plums, bring a large pot of water to boil.  Slice a large “X” into the bottom of each piece of fruit.  Drop the fruit, 3-4 at a time into the boiling water.  Let boil for 45 seconds and remove with a slotted spoon to a large bowl filled with ice water.  When fruit is cool (about 1 minute) remove to a cutting board and peel skin, which should pull apart from the fruit easily.  Chop fruit into 1/2-inch dice.
  2. Toss blackberries with peaches or plums in medium-size bowl.  Add sugar and lemon juice and toss to coat.  Let sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  3. Prepare canning jars as per canning instructions (see recipe above or instructions for your canning equipment).
  4. Transfer fruit mixture to a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Crush the fruit with a potato masher and let continue to bubble until it thickens, about 20 minutes. Dip a metal spoon into the jam and then hold it over the pot, letting it drip for a few moments to cool.  Run your finger down the back of the spoon, through the mixture.  If your finger leaves a clear path on the back of the spoon, the jam has cooked long enough.  If not, keep cooking and test every 5 minutes until you get a clear path.
  5. Spoon jam into prepared jars and process according to canning instructions (see recipe above or instructions for your canning equipment).

Peach Jam with a Hint of Blackberry

(this is the jam pictured in the images above.  the blackberry jam with peaches or plums is darker in color)

Ingredients:

  • 8oz fresh blackberries
  • 2-1/2 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and chopped
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice, divided

Method:

Use the same method as above, except separate the blackberries and peaches into two separate bowls.  Toss the peaches with 1 tbsp lemon juice and 3/4 cup sugar.  Toss the blackberries with 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 cup sugar.  After two hours, puree’ blackberries in a food processor or blender, then strain to remove seeds and pulp.  Stir blackberry puree’ into peaches and continue with step #4.

jam merge 1

And, if you’re not sure what to do with the 24-ish ounces of jam the recipes above produce, make this cake [pictured above], using the jam instead of the filling.  Or, give jars out to your friends – they’ll love it, I promise.

jam3 (1)

Other Bella Terra posts this season:

Bella Terra: Preparation

Bella Terra: Chives

Bella Terra: Herbs

Bella Terra: Sugar Snaps

Bella Terra: Red Beets

Bella Terra: Kale

Bella Terra: Cucumbers

the best of summer

After asking you all what your favorite summer produce is (as part of the Saucy Mama Giveaway – see bottom of post) Brian and I had a discussion to sort out our favorites. I didn’t realize what a tough decision it would be to make! There are so many options, and I feel that my mind changes every few weeks as a new fruit or vegetable ripens into its season. We settled on tomatoes and peaches as our top two, and an entertaining debate ensued. In the end Brian’s number one was tomatoes and mine was peaches, and although the results are questionable (peaches and tomatoes are at their peak right now which brings up the issue of bias…) we each appreciated the merits of the other’s argument.

peach bread merge 3

I’ll spare you the tomato argument today – it will have its place in the weeks to come, I promise. Instead, lets focus on peaches. Those perfect, plump, juicy globes with all the colors of the sunset splattered across their fuzzy skin. I love them – absolutely and with all the fervor deserved after waiting ten months for their reappearance in my daily diet. In their season, allowed to ripen on the tree and consumed within a couple of days of picking, fresh summer peaches are nothing like the bland, grainy imposters that fill bins in the supermarket during the off-season months.

peach bread merge 2

The peaches themselves played strongly into my final decision. Those flavorful bites – sweet with a little bit of tart – that result in juice running down your arms to your elbows are pretty hard to beat. But the clincher, that final argument that sealed peaches firmly into the number one position on my summer produce scale, was their procurement. The actual act of wandering the orchard, ducking into the dappled shade provided by row after row of trees, finding the perfect peach and picking it with my own hands. Brian and I have been to Chiles Peach Orchard three times already in the six weekends that pick-your-own peaches have been available, coming home with 25 pounds after each visit.

Peaches01

What does one (or in this case, two) do with 75 pounds of fresh peaches? Many wonderful things, dear readers. You’ve already heard about one, the slow-rise peach pancakes that graced our table one Sunday breakfast. There have been peaches in smoothies, oatmeal and on top of cereal. They’ve been baked in the folds of buttery pastry, grilled to perfection on the grill and simmered with blackberry puree’ to form the most delicious jam. I’ve even frozen half-a-dozen quarts for future cobblers and milkshakes during the off-season. I hope to share all of these recipes with you, but for now, I leave you with my newest addiction – Peach Bread.

peach bread merge 5

I’ve made variations of this recipe several times in the last few weeks, tweaking a bit each time until declaring this final version my favorite. It is based loosely on a recipe of my momma’s, with a bit of influence from Molly’s banana bread in A Homemade Life and a lot of gut instinct. Dense and moist with an almost cake-like crumb, this bread has all the flavors of a classic peach cobbler. I love it icy cold, taken straight from the fridge and paired with a cup of coffee for breakfast, but it is also delicious for dessert after being warmed briefly and topped with french vanilla ice cream.

Peach Bread2

Peach Bread

makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt (I used 0% fat Oikos Greek yogurt)
  • 2 cups peaches (about 2 large peaches), peeled and diced
  • 1 large peach, peeled and sliced thinly (for top of bread)
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup dried ginger, chopped finely (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*.  Spray  a 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. Cream the butter .  Gradually add sugar and mix to combine well.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in yogurt and diced peaches.
  3. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and cinnamon together in medium bowl.  Add ginger, if using.  Add the wet mixture to the dry, stirring until just blended.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan.  Place peach slices across top of batter, in decorative pattern.  Bake at 350* for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on wire rack.  Remove loaf from pan and let cool completely before slicing.

Peach Bread4

peach bread merge 1

Saucy Mama Giveaway!

Congrats to Shelby of La Belle Vegan and Rose of On A Lobster Placemat for being the winning commenters picked by Random.org!  Send me an email at bellaeats@gmail.com with your full name and address so that I can get your Lime Chipotle Marinade out to you.  Congrats ladies!