Plate of Greens–Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I realized today that it’s been a while since I ventured away from my easy dinners list. Sometimes, between seasons in the veggie garden, I fall prey to eating the same foods week after week while waiting for the garden to produce the new bounty. With a recent cold snap here, I cut a bunch of poblanos so I wouldn’t risk losing them to a possible freeze. Luckily, my yard is pretty protected, so there weren’t any freezing temps here, but I now had an abundance of peppers to use before they went bad. I gave quite a few to neighbors and family, which is one of the main reasons I grow food—not only to feed myself, but also those around me.

The poblanos have done very well since fall hit. Large and firm with a deep green, shiny coat, I knew they would hold up to a good stuffing. Stuffed peppers are a pretty easy dinner and can be easily customized to a variety of dietary preferences. Poblanos add a mini-kick and a depth of flavor that other peppers just don’t come close to. Since I had one last chicken thigh to use up, I figured a classic chicken and rice combo would be good to stuff ’em up. I also got excited to see bok choy in the grocery this weekend, so I thought I better use that before it got all wilty. My bok choy seedlings are doing well, but far from harvest time.

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So here we go with my version of a use what ya got stuffed pepper. While the rice was cooking in the cooker with coconut oil, turmeric, black pepper, and cumin, I got to chopping the veggies. Sliced yellow onion went into a saute pan with the chicken, apple cider vinegar (my way to keep meat from drying out), the juice of one limequat, olive oil, cumin and oregano. Since it was a boneless, skinless thigh, I knew it would cook quick enough so that the onion wouldn’t turn to complete mush.

img_20161212_183502.jpgThe poblanos went on the cast iron griddle with olive oil to blister. Yum. It was hard not to just eat them straight off the griddle.

Meanwhile, in a lidded pot, I steamed the rough chopped bok choy with water, butter, and a little garlic powder. Once the chicken started to brown, I threw a whole chopped shallot and two crushed garlic cloves into the pan. When the delicious scent of garlic started filling the air, I added a bit of water to pull the browned bits off the bottom of the pan and a couple scoops of the cooked rice and let all those flavors simmer together.

All of the spices and oils were melding into a hanging-open mouth moment of kitchen zen in my kitchen. It was time to stuff. My original plan was to include the bok choy in the mix for some crunch, but they had browned so beautifully, I decided to leave them on their own as a side. So I left those in the pot, pulled off the heat, while I cut the peppers and removed the seed pod. These poblanos had a massive amount of seeds, so had to remove most of them to have room for the filling. I stuffed the three peppers to overflowing and piled on the fresh grated pecorino romano, popped those babies under the broiler, and poured a glass of red wine. Since everything was pre-cooked and still hot, I just needed to get that cheese melty. Oh, yes. So melty.

I’m calling this dinner the Plate of Greens. And how about my timing with Pantone announcing the color of the year for 2017 as a vibrant shade called “Greenery”? Yep. I’m just that good. Not on purpose, mind you. Purely accidentally that good.

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Plate of Greens:

3 medium poblano peppers

1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh (you can substitute a non-meat option here easily)

1/4 medium yellow onion, sliced

1 large shallot, chopped

2 garlic cloves crushed

1 small head of bok choy

Pecorino Romano (or any cheese you like), fresh grated, enough to coat

1 cup Jasmine white rice

1 heaping tablespoon coconut oil (for rice)

Olive oil (use whatever you’re comfortable with for sauteing)

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter (for the bok choy)

Spices I used:  turmeric, black pepper, and cumin in the rice. Oregano and cumin in the chicken mixture. Garlic powder for the bok choy.

 

C for Chemistry and a Cookie

Pretty sure I got a solid C in high school chemistry. I took it over the summer months and I’m confident the only reason I got that C was because my teacher was friends with my dad, who was a guidance counselor at my school. I remember spending most days getting out of class on the pretense that I was going to see my dad for some important reason or another, which for me was asking him for a snack from the vending machine or to snag me one of the donuts that were intended for faculty only.

So any chemistry I might have learned at one point, well, that didn’t happen. Side note: I also took every math class from 8th grade on twice. My spectacular performances in chemistry and math may be why I avoided baking for so long. I learned to cook through jobs in kitchens in college and I always enjoyed the freedom to experiment and create. But baking? Frankly, it scared me. It seemed too exacting and scientific.

I got over that fear. The need to be learning new things all the time overpowered the fear and I dove in a few years ago. Starting out mostly sticking to recipes, I recently began branching out on my own into the scary nether regions of recipe substitutions and adaptations.

Let’s get chemical! Chemical!     (I also like to substitute words in songs, creating ridiculousness.)

Moving on, cookie time. The other day at work we were informed about a office-wide meeting. I’m a hater of meetings. Not only do I not enjoy groups of people collected in a small space, I hate dumb questions. Those people that say there are no stupid questions are idiots. Call a pointless meeting and you’ll hear a stream of stupidity in the form of questions. They exist.

So I thought, if we’re going to have to sit through a meeting, might as well have something good…like a cookie. I went home and looked around at what I had on hand and found the rest of the white chocolate chips from a previous cookie endeavour. Decided I needed to get rid of those faux chocolately things and since I didn’t have any macadamia nuts, I kept looking for something to go with those little bastards.

Finding nothing that peeked my interest inside, I did what I often do when I need inspiration in the kitchen—I went out to the garden. Running my hands through the rosemary and basil bushes, pulling rose petals of he loves me/he loves me not, plucking chamber bitters from under the peppers, and crushing thyme in my palm. It wasn’t until my foster puppy ran through the lemon verbena, her paw stomping on a branch, releasing that sharp, clean, grassy-citrus scent, that I knew what would pair with the white chocolate.

I clipped a few pieces with both mature and baby leaves and headed back inside to try a new cookie–lemon verbena and white chocolate chip.

20160817_183432.jpgDeciding to use my usual cookie recipe as the base, I thought infusing the herb into the butter would work best. Instead of bringing the butter up to a fast browning, I put it on low and chopped about 12 leaves into it to warm for twenty to twenty five minutes. After that time, I then turned up the heat to medium high and browned the infused butter.

I tasted the butter before adding the rest of the ingredients and it wasn’t quite lemony enough for me. Lemon desserts are my favorite and I need more to balance with the sweetness of the chocolate, so I added about 6 raw, chopped leaves into the flour.

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Cut the sugar by a quarter from the regular recipe and only did one tablespoon of vanilla extract. I took the risk of messing up the chemistry of the cookie because I didn’t want the savory verbena to be overpowered. The dough ended up coming together despite my changes. Dropped large portions onto the baking sheet hoping the bigger size would even out the flavors and give me the texture I wanted.

After an excruciating twelve minutes, with a flip halfway through, I pulled the sheet from the oven and stared at them while they cooled. They were a beautiful blonde, slightly darker around the edges, the white chunks were highlighted by the visible bits of verbena and the smell was intoxicating. I was pleased with the appearance. Once I felt like I had waited long enough, I made my chamomile tea, grabbed one of those fancy pants cookies, and dove into the deliciousness.

Chemistry and math be damned, I did it.

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Lemon Verbena and White Chocolate Cookies (mine made 12 extra large cookies):

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg yolk

1 large egg

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

15-20 leaves fresh lemon verbena

Melt 10 tablespoons butter in pan on low along with about 12 chopped verbena leaves. Allow that to warm for about 20-25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 and get a cookie sheet ready with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, add baking soda and 6 raw, chopped verbena leaves. Set aside.

Bring the butter on the stove up to medium high heat and brown it. Once it has that nutty aroma, pour it into a bowl with the remaining 4 tablespoons butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Stir in the salt, vanilla extract, sugar, and eggs. Whisk for 30 seconds, let sit for 3 minutes. Repeat that two more times.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl and stir until just combined. Fold in the white chocolate chips.

Measure out dough into about 2 inch balls. I ended up with exactly 12. Bake on middle rack for 6 minutes, flip sheet around and bake another 6 minutes. Pull from oven and set the sheet on cooling racks. Allow to cool long enough to set…

then try not to eat all of them at once.

Tomadough Tart. Or something.

First, you grow some scrumptious heirloom tomatoes. Then you pick ’em ripe. After that, you put them in doubled-up dough with dijon, herbs and cheese, bake, and then cram it in yer piehole and make contented animal noises. Hello, summer.

It looks a little sumthin like this:

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Jenn’s Tomadough Tart Recipe

Tart dough (I doubled this because I like a thick dough):

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1 rounded cup of flour

Put the butter, water, oil, and sugar in an oven-safe bowl and bake on 410 for 15 mins. until butter starts to brown on edges. Pull from oven, pour in flour, mix and put into tart pan to cool for a few before forming around pan.

I then cooked the dough at 375 for 15 mins. and let it cool completely before adding the filling.

Tart Filling:

As many tomatoes as will fill your tart. I know this is vague, but I used four different sizes of tomatoes for mine. I did three layers and that took one large, four medium, two small, and then six cherries. Do what feels right for you.

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**Be sure to put your sliced tomatoes out on a towel and salt them to pull the water out of them. You can do this while the dough is cooling. 

 

6 ounces of good goat cheese (you could use mozzarella if you prefer)

Pecorino romano, freshly grated

Fresh chopped herbs (I used scallions, thyme, and basil from my garden, but feel free to use whatever spices you like. Tomatoes go with most any of them.)

Dijon, enough to coat the bottom of the tart

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Coat the bottom of the cooked/cooled tart dough with dijon–a layer as thick as you would put on a sandwich. Then add your first layer of tomatoes. Tops with some of the herbs and a sparse sprinkling of grated pecorino romano cheese. Next layer of tomatoes and repeat with the herbs and cheese. Add the final layer of tomatoes, top with the goat cheese and any herbs you may have left. Pour the olive oil all over the top of the tart.

Bake at 425 for 30 mins. on the middle rack. Watch it so the cheese on top doesn’t brown too much.

Take it out and allow to cool for the flavors to meld and so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut into it.

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A Tart Despite Herself

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Summer is a time to cram sugar-laced fruits into butter-laden dough, bake until golden and bubbly, and then eat straight from the dish with a spoon. Or share it with others. Years ago, a friend of mine gifted me a magnet that says, “Love people. Cook them tasty food.” I’m not an emotionally expressive person, so this rang true to my core. It’s what I do. Instead of giving hugs or stuttering over sappy sentiments, I make food for those I care about.

After an almost two week vacation on the road visiting friends and family, I realized near the end of last week that I hadn’t made anything in a while. Whether it’s cooking, baking, gardening, writing, or some sort of craft, I can’t go too long without putting my hands to work. And it shows. My hands look about 20 years older than I am. Even so, they’re one of my favorite parts of me.

One not so favorite part is my brain and its exacting inability to follow directions. I thought I had beat this. I had gotten so consistent at reading through entire recipes before doing anything else. Then I’d gather ingredients and read through it again. Yeah, so I must not have done that enough times to make it an actual habit.

On Thursday afternoon, I asked a coworker if I should make a blueberry tart to bring into work the next day. Of course, the answer was yes, so I stopped at the store on the way home and picked up four pints of blueberries that were on sale. I always prefer using produce that is in season for cooking and baking, and since we’re coming to the end of the blueberry season here, I knew I wanted to do one more dessert with them.

I also thought I knew which recipe I wanted to use for the tart. Another one from Kate Lebo’s book, Pie School: a blueberry and lemon verbena galatte. Except as a tart. So I glanced over the recipe, mainly looking at the ingredients for the filling since I wasn’t doing a galatte dough. I planted lemon verbena in my garden this spring and was pumped to be able to use it.

This is where things got funky. I googled tart dough recipes and saw the classic French pastry dough recipe in which you bring the butter to a boil in the oven and I got all sorts of frazzled with excitement at the idea of that. And then it was all downhill from there.

I mixed the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt in a pyrex bowl and put it in the oven. Forced to read those directions multiple times because of conversions, I then looked over the other recipe for time and temps. If you’re keeping up, I was working with two different recipes at that point–one for the dough, one for the filling ingredients. What else could I need, you ask? I am not the one that can answer that for you, but I do know that I started following a third recipe.

No clue why, but I started using the ingredient list on the third recipe and mixing said ingredients, minus the lemon zest and opting for lemon verbena instead. Are you confused yet? I’m confused just remembering the ordeal. I have no idea how my brain made all of it seem okay at the time. After mixing, I check the third recipe for a baking time and there wasn’t one…um, what? Only then did I read the actual recipe and realized they were cooking the blueberries ahead of time and then just adding to a pre-baked dough.

Wow. I’d really outdone myself. It was too late to fix the fact I had tossed corn starch20160625_215600.jpg straight in with lemon juice and sugar and blueberries and I wasn’t going to cook them because screw that, my dough was ready to go. The one thing I did correctly. It sure was a purty dough and smelled like straight browned butter of gloriousness. I was a bit concerned that there wasn’t really enough to fill out the tart pan, but with some heal-of-the-hand work, I stretched out it to cover. Yes, I could have baked the dough and pre-cooked the blueberries at this point to bring my mess closer to that third recipe, but did I do that?

20160625_215631.jpgI did not. I piled those little blue pellets of sweetness into the tart dough and moved ahead with my version. Put that possible disaster into the oven at 375 for 45 minutes. I checked it around 35 minutes, but the fruit wasn’t quite to the consistency I wanted to see. It was just where I wanted it to be at the 45 min. mark, knowing it would still cook down some after coming out of the oven. It looked a bit soupy when I set it on a cooling rack–I was nervous.

Once again, my inability to follow directions did not an atrocity make. The blueberry tart ended up turning out quite well. It didn’t hold together as much as I would have liked, but the flavor was a perfect balance of sweet and tart. It went very well with morning coffee. The people seemed pleased.

Another success despite myself!

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French Pastry Dough Recipe

  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 rounded cup flour

Preheat the oven to 410º F

1. In a medium-sized ovenproof bowl, such as a Pyrex bowl, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt.

2. Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and starts to brown just around the edges.

3. When done, remove the bowl from oven, pour in flour and stir it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

4. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula.

5. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough, about the size of a raspberry, for patching any cracks.

 

Blueberry Tart Filling

3 pints of blueberries, plus one cup set aside to top before serving

12-15 leaves of lemon verbena, finely chopped

2 tablespoons corn starch (I may use 5 tablespoons of flour next time instead)

2/3 cup of granulated sugar

3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

lemon zest for topping

 

Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes. Check at 35. Refrigerate 45 minutes to cool or up to overnight. Top with fresh blueberries and lemon zest before cutting.

 

 

 

 

Hello, 2016. Here’s a pie…to start.

You could say I’m fashionably late to this year’s domestic endeavors party. Seeing that it’s the end of April, that might be a slight understatement. Or a massive one. Either way, here we are.

Pie. Of course I’m starting with a pie. Pie4lyfe…or something. Anyway, I was bored at work and clicking around on the internet (just kidding, Debbie, I’m always busy busy bzzzzz) when I paused on a Garden & Gun article about a pie I had previously saved multiple times in different recipe storing apps, because I might not have the best memory, so I need many reminders. It’s called an Atlantic Beach Pie. The ingredient list caught my attention first, and the steps seemed super easy. I’m all over easy, so I was all over this pie.

Lemony desserts have long been the twin flame of my sweet-sensory taste buds’ life. Growing up, my dad would go out and get doughnuts on Saturday mornings from the local place on the edge of our neighborhood. He would come back with an assortment that included a lemon-filled. Nobody would ever grab for or ask for that one. We wanted the chocolate and sprinkles or cinnamon sugars. At some point, I picked up on his possible trickiness, so I tried one of those strange things–instantly hooked on that gooey tart treat. I don’t know whether it was just because I always wanted to be doing whatever my dad was doing or whether I actually liked the taste, but from then on, I’ve always added at least one lemon-filled doughnut to the dozen.

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The Atlantic Beach Pie is a new addition to my lemontastical-dessert addiction. The recipe calls for a half cup of either fresh lemon or lime juice. Or a mix of both. I decided on a mix, doing two large lemons and one smallish lime. The rest of the filling is just egg yolks and a can of sweetened condensed milk. Simple. As usual, I couldn’t follow the straight forward directions, so I started thinking about what other flavor I like with lemon. Thyme.

Any time I can incorporate foods I grow myself into a recipe, I’m on it like my dog on a spoonful of peanut butter. Out to the garden I went to cut some fresh English thyme. One thing I have learned, even if I’m not going to follow the instructions to a T, I do collect and measure out all ingredients ahead of starting any step. 

After gathering everything up and reading the directions just one more time, I got to work on the crust. I think one of the reasons I adore lemon desserts so much is that they are not overly sugar-laden in flavor. The tartness of the citrus brings something more to the tongue, and I appreciate that. Along those same lines, I tend to crave a salty pop to sweetness, which made the idea of a saltine cracker crust very intriguing. I did the full 1 1/2 sleeves of crackers with the higher end of the range of butter, of course, but I cut the sugar to somewhere in between 1 1/2 and 2 tablespoons. Cutting back on sugar is my M.O. Those Wilford Brimley commercials really worked on me–I hear him saying “DIABEETUS” in my mind every time I look at the amount called for in recipes.

Pretty sure I screwed up the intended texture of the crust…and won. The instructions said 20160426_194803.jpgsomething about using a food processor or your hands to break up the crackers finely, but not to dust. Well, those two methods would result in two very different outcomes, if you ask me. I chose hands out of pure laziness of not wanting to dirty up my food processor. I ended up leaving the saltines on the larger chunk side thinking that kneading in the softened stick of butter would break them up further. Didn’t really happen that way, but I went with it. Turned out that the larger cracker pieces held up against the creamy filling and added a welcomed textural experience to each bite. Baked, the crust was golden gorgeous.

Next up was to make the filling. I took the suggestion of mixing fresh lemon as well as lime juice and used two large lemons and one smallish lime to equal the half cup of liquid needed. Mixed in with the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks, this is when I added my very finely chopped thyme from the garden. I only did one heaping teaspoon of the thyme, figuring it would be enough to tell if I like it, but not enough to completely ruin the pie if it wasn’t right. Turned out the thyme blended splendidly, adding a grounding, earthy flavor to the lightness of the citrus. I’ll probably use closer to a full tablespoon next time.

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After baking it until the filling set, I cooled the pie and put in the fridge until the next morning, since I had planned on bringing it to work. I like sharing my baking trials with coworkers and then hearing them complain about gaining weight… . Anywaaaay, the next morning I got my arm workout with the whipping of the cream for the top.

20160426_071205.jpgFollowed the classic call for heavy whipping cream, granulated sugar, dash of vanilla extract, and a chilled metal bowl and whisk. Boom. Delicious peaks of fluffy goodness to mound up on top of the pie. I like extra whipped cream or meringue on my pies, so did 1 1/2 cups of cream. Again, cut the amount of suggested shug in half.

I‘d say, even with my tweaks, the pie was a success. Not sure why I can’t just follow the instructions given to me, but I know my mom isn’t surprised. I purtied up that pie with some edible violas, which the entire staff avoided by cutting around awkwardly, and a few sprigs of the English thyme on top. The saltiness of the cracker crust with the tartness of the citrus filling and the sweetness of the whipped topping makes for one excellent dessert. This one will definitely be a repeat performance in my pie repertoire.

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For the crust:

1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers

1/2 cup softened, unsalted butter

1 1/2-2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the filling:

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup fresh lemon or lime juice (or a mix of both)

fresh thyme, very finely chopped

Whipped cream topping:

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

splash of vanilla extract

Chill the metal bowl and whisk in the freezer for about ten minutes before whipping it real good until peaks form. Do this right before serving; although, mine stood up perfectly fine for over 24 hours.

PIE

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Tomato Tart Time

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Heirloom tomato season is in full swing and I can’t deny loving those ugly maters. I personally don’t see them as ugly, but I’m also the one that will pick out the one damaged looking beta fish to bring home as a pet and name him Meatball–so there’s that.

The tomatoes from my summer veggie garden ran out a few weeks ago, so I found these locally-grown beauties at the store and gathered fresh basil, English thyme, and chives from my yard for a tomato tart I wanted to bring to friend’s house for lunch.

After slicing, you can tell why I can’t see them as ugly…

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The usual southern tomato tart recipe calls for a simple ingredient list of fresh tomatoes and herbs, cheese, and mayo. I stuck to that simplicity with mine as well, starting with the basic tart dough and switching it up by using an herbed mayo and goat cheese.

Once I had the dough in the tart pan, I spread a thin layer of the mayo, that I had previously mixed with finely chopped fresh basil and a few dashes of garlic powder, over the bottom of the tart dough. I put that back in the fridge while I sliced, salted, and set the tomato slices on paper towels to draw out some of the liquid. Then I packed the pan tightly with the tomatoes, filling all spaces, drizzled with olive oil, covered with chopped basil, thyme, dried oregano, and salt & pepper, then added the sliced goat cheese, little more olive oil and it was ready for the oven. This is an easy dish to pull together when you need to bring a dish on the spot.

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They come together quickly, the recipe is easy to tweak to your liking, they bake in 30 minutes, and they are always a hit regardless of your personal tastes and adjustments. And…they are kind of pie like. PIE.

What’s not to love about a tomato tart during heirloom tomato season?

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Tart Filling

One unbaked tart dough (recipe below)

3-4 large heirloom tomatoes

2 tablespoons mayo

2 tablespoons fresh basil

1 tablespoon other herbs of your choice (I used English thyme, scallions, and dried oregano)

2 tablespoon olive oil

8 ounces fresh goat cheese

Salt & pepper

Tart Dough

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, chilled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

2-3 tablespoons cold water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and add to flour. Use your fingers to break into the butter until it is crumbly.

Mix the egg with 2 tablespoons of the cold water and whip together. Make a well in the flour and add the beaten egg, mix until the dough holds together. Add the extra tablespoon of water if needed (I needed it).

Roll dough out on floured surface until it’s big enough to fit the tart pan and press in tightly.

Preheat oven to 425 F

Spread the mayo on the tart bottom and set it aside (I put it back into the fridge).

Slice, salt, and set out the tomatoes (note: I should have let mine set out longer because my tart was still quite juicy at the end).

Chop the fresh herbs and goat cheese.

Fill the tart with tomato, olive oil and herbed layers until full, and top with the goat cheese.

Drizzle a little more of the olive oil on top and pop into the oven for about 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender and the cheese is browned. If your cheese isn’t browned at that point (mine was not), run it under the broiler for a few minutes. Keep an eye on it though! Goat cheese browns fast.

Garnish with sliced scallions and smile satisfyingly at all the mmmmmms and aaahhhhs from your guests.

Use What Your Garden Gave Ya: Meatless Monday Meal

I’m a huge proponent of home veggie gardens. There are many advantages to growing your own food, but my favorite aspect is being able to walk out my kitchen door into a glorified pantry of freshness all year long.

This evening, I found a ripe ‘Black Beauty’ eggplant, basil that needed to be used or lost to the heat and rain, scallions, and just enough parsley that the butterfly caterpillars left for me to enjoy. I knew I wanted to do a quick stir fry with my finds and the rest of whatever was in the fridge that needed to be used up. I can’t stand food waste and will  frequently concoct some strange combinations just to use whatever I have on hand. This time, it actually all made came together and made sense.

The look of the food, from the prep to the plating, is important to me and I believe affects the entire experience of the meal. Presentation was something I learned while working in kitchens and it has carried over to homemade meals even when only cooking for myself. I like pretty food and that means a lot of color. Eating all the colors is also the easiest way to have a healthy diet without dieting.

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Back in the house, I pulled out the leftover red cabbage, the butt of a zucchini, half a yellow pepper, red onion, garlic, and extra firm tofu to add to my garden finds. I was craving vegetables after a weekend of many meats and carbs. Meatless Monday feels slightly hippy to me, but I’m going with it. No, I won’t be doing any yoga after dinner. I can’t even touch my toes and I like it that way.

I do try to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet to help with my syndrome, but I definitely get off course sometimes. This past weekend was one of those times and my joints told me all about it today. Starting Monday off with this meal will get me back on track to make better decisions the rest of the week.

wpid-wp-1440459274049.jpgInto the medium-heated pan went about two tablespoons (I don’t actually measure) of coconut oil along with the tofu, eggplant, yellow pepper, and a few dashes of salt. Once the eggplant started to become slightly transparent, I threw in the red onion and zucchini. At this point, I spiced it with cumin, cayenne, turmeric, and red pepper flakes (I just eye it to my preference). I cooked the red cabbage in a separate pot–to prevent it from turning everything purple–with a little water, cumin, and turmeric, and added that to the mix at this point along with garlic, basil, and a few splashes of apple cider vinegar. With the veggies and tofu browned, I drizzled a bit of olive oil over everything, added the parsley and tossed it all together to pour into a bowl and garnish with the scallions.

The tofu and eggplant soaked up all those spices so well and complemented the sweet crunch of the pepper and onions. I ate two big bowls without anything else, but this stir fry could easily be put over rice, quinoa, or wrapped up in tortillas. I just wanted all the veggies and I was pleased. It was fresh, spicy, and delectable.

ALL. THE. VEGGIES.

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So I finished this Monday on a good note and hope to continue to make healthy decisions throughout the week. Having fresh produce in my backyard is an advantage to making better choices. While I’m enthusiastic about my fall tomatoes coming in and more peppers, I’m really looking forward to getting the winter garden going and all the greens and root and tuber vegetables that will be flooding my kitchen for soups and stews, which also means the end of 90% humidity, mosquitoes, and a break from weeding. Bring on the cooler weather! I’m ready.