Grilled Watermelon Salad

The kids are back in school, which is a key sign that Summer is coming to an end. But I refuse to accept it!!!

To hold onto the last bit of summer we have (although this CA weather indicates it has just started), I decided to try out this wonderful Grilled Watermelon Salad. What a hit!!!

Who would have ever thought you could grill watermelon? Well, you can & it is DELICIOUS!!!

Grilled Watermelon Salad

1/2 (5-pound) seedless watermelon
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt (specialty salt is great here, if on hand)
2 cups fresh baby arugula, washed and dried
1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
Fresh finely cracked black pepper

Stand the watermelon half cut side down on a cutting board and slice away the rind, leaving a solid block of melon. Turn the block on its side and cut it into 8 squares, roughly 3 by 3 inches and 1-inch thick.

Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced to a thick syrup consistency. Watch it closely as it can burn & turn hard easily. Set aside.

Heat a nonstick grill pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle just enough olive oil over watermelon slices to thinly coat and place on hot grill pan. Grill each side about 2 minutes until grill marks appear; transfer to a plate and season with salt.

To assemble the salads, put about 1/4 cup of baby arugula on a serving plate, followed by a grilled slice of watermelon in the center, and top with a tablespoon of crumbled cheese and another 1/4 cup arugula. Add another watermelon slice and another tablespoon of cheese. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Finish each salad with a very light drizzle of olive oil and balsamic syrup. Dust with black pepper and serve immediately.

Recipe Source: 5 Fix Ingredients
Picture:
By Jen Grove

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Pesto Pea Salad

In search of a new salad dressing recipe, I came across this salad which uses Pesto. I just happen to have a jar of pesto laying around, so it was obvious this was a good recipe to try out tonight. I added tomatoes & mushrooms to make it more hearty and enjoyed it with the Potato-Fennel Gratin recipe I posted earlier. DELICIOUS!!!

Pesto Pea Salad

2 cups of frozen peas
2 1/2 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
1/2 mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup pesto, homemade or store bought

Cook the peas in a pot of boiling water until done. Immediately immerse the peas in a bowl of ice cold water, and drain when fully cooled.

To assemble, place the spinach leaves in a salad bowl. Add the peas, tomatoes and mushrooms. Add the pesto and toss.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Barefoot Contessa
Photo: By Jen Grove

Potato-Fennel Gratin

I haven’t had potato gratin in at least 15 years, so I was very excited to try out this old love of mine.

Once again Ina Garten didn’t fail me & this recipe turned out perfect!!! You can serve as a side dish or as a main dish with a salad. Either way, it is DELICIOUS!!!

Potato-Fennel Gratin

2 small fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 pounds russet potatoes (4 large potatoes)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (1/2 pound)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter the inside of a 10-by-15-by-2-inch (10-cup) baking dish.

Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them by hand or with a mandoline. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyère, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.

Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 cup of Gruyère and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.

*Note: I added a tad bit more salt to the top, but that is a personal choice. It does taste fine as is.

Recipe Source:
Barefoot Contessa

Egg in a Hole

While flipping through some old Everyday Food Magazines, I came across this Egg in a Hole recipe. Super simple, but gives a boring, old fried egg a little something more.

This was the perfect way to try out our fresh eggs from our newly laying chickens!

Egg in a Hole

2 teaspoons butter
1 bell pepper (any color), cut into four 1/2-inch-thick rings
4 large eggs
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 teaspoons of your favorite grated cheese

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon butter over medium-high. Add bell pepper rings, then crack 1 egg into the middle of each pepper ring. Season with salt and pepper and cook until egg whites are mostly set but yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently flip and cook 1 minute more for over easy. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve once cheese is melted.


More Egg in a Hole Ideas:

Recipe Source: Adapted from Everyday Food
Photo:
By Jen Grove and Everyday Food

Tres Leche Cake

By golly, I think I’ve found my new FAVORITE cake!

A few years back, friends of ours used to get a Tres Leche Cake for their kids birthday every year. I had never heard, nor tasted one before this & boy were we missing out!

A Tres Leche cake is a cake that is soaked in 3 different kids of milk, which makes it so sweet, moist & tasty! It really is nothing I’ve ever tasted before.

While thinking of our good friends, who have since moved to Arizona, I decided to make my own Tres Leche Cake.

Tres Leche Cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled, plus more for baking dish
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
5 cups fresh fruit (optional), I used Peaches, Blackberries, Blueberries, Raspberries & Strawberries.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat eggs and 3/4 cup sugar on high until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine.

With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat to combine. With a rubber spatula, fold in melted butter until incorporated.

Transfer batter to dish and bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating dish halfway through.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milks. Poke warm cake all over with a wooden skewer or toothpick, then pour milk mixture over top and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. As the cake cools, it will soak up all of the milk.

Whip the cream and 1/4 cup sugar to medium peaks. To serve, spread whipped cream evenly over cooled cake. Top with fruit if desired.

Recipe Source: Everyday Food
Photo:
by Jen Grove

Elmo Birthday Party

Thinking back to when my daughter turned 2, I remember trying to come up with a cute theme. In the past, I wasn’t a big fan of using obnoxious cartoon characters, such as purple singing dinosaurs, as the theme. But, when you think of the interest level of a soon to be 2 year, you really don’t have much to work with.

In our case, Elmo won over the heart of my little girl. How could I possible deny her of her love for a big, furry, red monster?

Invitations:
After seeing a cute show ticket invite on Etsy, I decided to make my own with a design software I have on my home computer.

Decoration:
Once again, we hired our favorite balloon guy who, without a doubt, impressed everyone.

Cake:
Each year, I challenge myself to come up with a homemade (or partially homemade) cake design. This year, was no different. 1 Elmo Cake, coming up!

I used a boxed cake mix, which I baked in a ball cake pan. Once baked & cooled, I cut a portion of one side off so the cake would stand up straight.

The eyes & nose are large cupcakes, which are attached to the head with wooden kabob skewers. Ice everything up with Elmo colored icing & you have yourself an edible Elmo head.

Note: Other cute Sesame Street ideas include

Cookie Monster

Photos: By Jen Grove or Flicker

Creamy Orzo

My friend Judy brought this dish to Bunco Night last year & I knew I had to have the recipe. Perhaps, the act of me having not 1 or 2 servings, but 3 helpings of this yummy goodness was a sign this would soon become a family favorite.

It’s great as a side dish, but in our house it’s a main dish!

Creamy Orzo

1 pound orzo (rice-shaped pasta) – reserved the left over pasta water!
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic & oregano (or any other seasonings) , juices drained
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (I normally dump the entire bag in) 🙂
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a heavy large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the orzo and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cream and peas. Add the orzo and toss to coat. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the Parmesan to the pasta mixture and toss to coat. Stir the pasta mixture until the sauce coats the pasta thickly, adding enough reserved cooking liquid to maintain a creamy consistency. Season the orzo with salt and pepper, and serve.

*NOTES:  Make sure you remove the pan from the heat when you add the Parmesan.  You can even wait a bit for the pasta to cool down before you add it.  If the pasta is too hot, the Parmesan will clump into gum ball sized cheese balls.  Although, still edible, it is not the ideal consistency.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Friend Judy & Everyday Italian
Photo: Courtesy of FoodNetwork.com

Asian Spinach Salad

When I first came across this recipe in 2008, we ate it almost every night. It is so simple & tasty it was difficult to move on.

Asian Spinach Salad

7 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 – three ounce package Asian noodle soup mix (such as Top Ramen), noodles coarsely broken (I doesn’t matter which flavor, as only the noodles will be used)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)
1 ten ounce bag ready-to-use spinach leaves

Whisk 6 tablespoons oil, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce in small bowl to blend. Season dressing with salt and pepper.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add noodles from soup mix (reserve seasoning packet for another use), nuts and sesame seeds. Stir until noodles, nuts and seeds are toasted and golden, about 8 minutes.

Pour contents of skillet into large bowl and cool 10 minutes. Add spinach, Toss with enough dressing to coat & Serve

Recipe Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit

Backyard Chickens

Raising Chickens in your backyard is very “egg”citing! Sorry… I couldn’t help myself. 🙂

This past March, we decided we were going to raise backyard chickens. The thought of having fresh eggs in our own backyard seems really neat to me.

Our good friend, Cara, has been raising her chickens for a year & it didn’t seem that difficult. After picking her brain for a few weeks (over & over again – Thank you Cara!), I decided we were ready!

We picked up our 5 baby chicks from a local Farmers Feed & Supply Store.

Girls @ 1 week old

Who knew chickens grew so quickly?

Girls @ almost 2 weeks old


Girls @ almost 3 weeks old.
Notice how much bigger the white one is. Yes, we will get to the reason for that soon.


4 weeks


6 weeks. Again, notice how GIGANTIC the white bird is.

By 8 weeks of age, the Girls were moved to the coop.

My amazing husband & father in-law build the coop & it turned out fantastic! The girls are so happy to have more space. Hopefully, this will lead to many fresh eggs in our near future.

Now back to the white chicken… She has always been much bigger than the other chickens. It was normal for her to lay around more than the other birds, in the smaller cage. I thought this was because she didn’t have enough room. When we moved everyone out into the new, bigger coop, I noticed she still did not walk around as much as the other birds. In fact, she couldn’t even carry herself up the ramp to sleep in the hen house at night.

After some research & chatting on local yahoo chicken boards (yes, they exist), I come to find out she is NOT a White Leghorn chicken, as I had originally thought (mind you, I thought this because this is what the darn sign said at the Farmers Feed & Supply Store where I got her).

It turns out she is a Meat Bird. Yes, you heard me correctly. A Meat Bird! As in Foster Farms/Tyson Chickens.

This breed of chickens are bred for the sole purpose of processing, which usually takes place at 8-10 weeks of age. “Processing” was NOT something I was about to do!

Our Meat Bird is still with us, due to the fact we haven’t figured out a better alternative for her. She actually moves around more often & seems very happy. However, I do realize she may never lay eggs or live very long. We shall see what happens.

As for our other chickens…

This one turned out to be a Rooster, which we cannot have in our community. After a quick posting on Craigslist, he was picked up by a nice woman & hopefully brought to a nice new home.


These 3 are all doing very well! We received our very 1st egg yesterday & another one this morning. We are all very excited!!!

Slow Cooker Lasagna

This recipe takes 15-20 minutes TOPS to prep & get going. You can even do it the day before, throw it all in the crock pot, refrigerate & take out/turn on the next day when you’re ready for it. Simple, Simple, Simple and so delicious!

My only issue with this recipe is that the lasagna is only as big as your crock pot. For me, that means it’s not guest friendly as my crock pot is only big enough to feed the 5 members in my family (with a few leftovers). Other than that, it’s a great, quick hot meal that takes very little time.

*Note: You can turn this into a Vegetarian Lasagna by using grilled eggplant vs. the sausage.

Slow Cooker Lasagna

1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
53 ounces of your favorite tomato sauce (more or less, depending on how saucy you like your lasagna)
2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Kosher salt & pepper to taste
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 container (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
15 uncooked lasagna noodles

In a large skillet, cook sausage and onion over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender & sausage is no longer pink, 6-8 minutes; drain.

Stir in tomato sauce, basil, oregano, Italian seasoning and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, ricotta and Parmesan cheese. (Refrigerate remaining mozzarella cheese while lasagna cooks.)

Cover bottom of crock pot with sauce. Not a lot, just enough to cover.

Spoon 1/4 of the sausage mixture on top of sauce; top with 5 noodles, broken into pieces to fit. Spread with half of the cheese mixture.

Repeat two more times with Sauce, 1/4 of the sausage mixture, 5 noodles & cheese mixture. *Note: sauce will dry out during cooking time. Make sure you add enough to your liking.

Cover and cook on Low heat setting 4 to 6 hours or until noodles are tender.

Sprinkle top of lasagna with remaining 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Cover and let stand about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Cut into pieces & serve.

*Tip: Don’t know what to do with left over Ricotta? Make a dip! Add ricotta with a little milk, garlic, onion, dried dill and salt & pepper. Mix all together to desired consistency. Serve with carrots & celery.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Betty Crocker