Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Time Menus

It's summer (shocking, I know!) and my desire to spend an hour simmering, stewing, sauteing or slicing to prepare dinner every night is non-existent. Who wants to be in a hot kitchen each day when the pool, park, beach, playground, a bike ride or other outdoor fun beckon? Not me! Which makes for a difficult time trying to keep up this food blog and my regular writing gig over at

Thankfully, every once and awhile in the summer either a rainy day or another type of respite from outdoor fun occurs, and I find myself back in my favorite room of our home: the kitchen. But for the large majority of summer afternoons, I want a dish that suits my summer style, meaning a meal that:

A. Can be prepared ahead of time
B. Is a no-cook or almost no-cook
C. Only needs a quick grill outdoors

In other words, menus perfect for Summer Time, which I define as: "wanting to spend as little time indoors cooking as possible." So for the next several posts I share some of our favorite menus for summer.

Here's a menu that can be largely prepared ahead of time: you can marinate the portabella mushrooms, assemble the salsa and mix the corn salad all quickly and easily earlier in the day, or for the salsa and salad, the night prior. All you will need is a quick grill for the portabellas, and dinner is served!

Grilled Portabella Burgers

Paired with some deliciously refreshing Watermelon Salsa:

and a very easy, make-ahead Fresh Corn Salad!

Delicious, nutritious, and perfect for the easy, breezy summertime attitude!

Peas and love,

Friday, June 24, 2011

A new table setting

Since summer hit, it seems as though our garden isn't the only thing growing at break-neck speed: our two little Sweet Peas are sprouting up too.

It is sometimes difficult for me to recognize day in, day out growth in R and G, as I see them every day. Often I notice growth the most when one of them puts on a shirt, comes downstairs and I realize their once generously sized top is now a belly shirt.

But in the last two weeks friends, neighbors, sitters, have all commented on how big they are getting, so SPH measured R and G. G had grown 2 inches since spring and R another inch! No wonder I had to make another sojourn to pick up some new summer clothes.

Besides the vertical growth though, there have been a number of other milestones, most of them kitchen related:

First, the sippy cups that I haven't used much for months have been pushed to the back of a drawer, only for use when younger kiddos come to visit.

Then, I've been using mostly regular utensils, since R and now G do just fine with adult sized-silverware.

But the most recent change hit me hard, as I started to serve up dinner one night and realized that I would be serving all four of us on these:

Four ceramic dishes. No melamine, no plastic, no break-free dishes. For 7 years now, meal time meant reaching into a separate drawer or shelf for the kiddo dishes, but now, we have graduated. Sure, there will still be plenty of times I use the melamine plates (I love, love the divided plates I bought a couple years ago, mostly because then R and G aren't complaining that their foods are touching or gasp! mixing together), but the mere fact that I would use ceramic at all for certain meals boys are getting older.

I used to say, as someone told me, "the days are long, but the years are short."

I think I need to change my line to, "the days are short, and the years are even shorter."

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Minted Peas

Peanut Butter and Jelly.

Or even better, Peanut Butter and Chocolate.

Chips and Salsa.

Bacon and Eggs.

Certain foods just taste better together and here's a combination you might not have tried yet, but should:

Mint and Peas.

I just harvested what very well might be our last sweet peas for the spring. Sweet peas (of the plant variety) tend to wilt when it gets hot, so our plants are fading with the warmer temperatures.

I took our sweet peas and mixed them with a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and mint. The flavors converged so beautifully I can now attest to the delight of the mint and peas combination.

If you don't have fresh peas, use frozen! I've tried this recipe with both fresh and frozen and either works great.

Lastly, if you happen to have a hunk of Romano cheese, Parmesan cheese, or some feta or goat cheese crumbles, by all means, add them to the mint and pea party. You'll have a more substantial side dish or even a light summer lunch, perhaps paired with some good bread to soak up any remaining yummy juices.

Minted Peas

3 cups sweet peas, either fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
optional: 1/2 cup Romano, Parmesan or other cheese, cut into small cubes

Pour the peas into a medium bowl. If using fresh, steam for 1-2 minutes and drain. If using frozen, just simply thaw.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir well and pour over the peas.

Add the fresh mint and toss well.

Add cheese if using.

Serves 4 as a side.

Sweet peas for the Sweet Peas!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Broccoli and Bacon Ranch Pasta

I once saw it written that ________ + broccoli = a healthy meal. As in:

chicken nuggets + chips + broccoli = a healthy meal.

This dish has broccoli, so that appeases any potential health guilt you may harbor from the fact that this dish also has bacon. But here's the thing: this pasta dish has only 6 slices of bacon but 2 cups of steamed broccoli florets, a definite healthy equation. Add to this that I use Greek Yogurt in place of the traditional pasta dish ingredient of mayonnaise and you are sitting pretty in the healthy meal equation.

This dish is another great side dish for a picnic or dinner, or even a meal in and of itself!

Broccoli and Bacon Ranch Pasta*

1/2 pound small pasta (we used campanelle)
2 cups broccoli florets
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and sliced
1/2 cup red onion, sliced
1 cup Greek Yogurt
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. While the pasta is cooking, place the broccoli in a metal colander and steam over the boiling pasta, 4-5 minutes or until al dente.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the red onion, bacon and broccoli. Drain the pasta and add to the bowl.

In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, parsley, onion powder, garlic powder, dill, salt and pepper. Stir well and pour over the pasta.

Toss well and serve immediately.

If making ahead, add a few teaspoons of olive oil to the pasta before serving, as pasta tends to absorb the yogurt sauce.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side

*This is one of those infinitely adaptable recipes--you can easily alter it make it vegetarian and use any combination of vegetable(s) you choose!

Peas and love,

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Cucumbers

I have a couple summer side dishes to share with you, since one of my most frequent requests is for side dishes...

If there was a contest to win "most likely dish to find in the Sweet Pea family's refrigerator" this recipe would win hands' down. We make it throughout the year, but in the summer it is almost constantly in our fridge, and even as I type there is a batch in there:

We call these Summer Cucumbers, or in the winter, Marinated Cucumbers, even Refrigerator Pickles. Whatever you want to name them, you will call them "delicious."

They are super easy to make and keep for up to a week in the refrigerator due to the good amount of vinegar. Sometimes we make them with just cucumbers, but our favorite way is to add sweet or red onion. If you have an anti-onion kid, just slice them large enough to remove them from his or her helping. Another option? Add seeded tomato slices

Here's another great thing about Summer Cucumbers: since cucumbers are 96% water, this snack or side dish is a great way to get some extra water (ie, hydatration!) into your kiddos during the hot summer months.

Summer Cucumbers

1 large English Cucumber or 2 medium cucumbers, seeds removed and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 red or Vidalia onion, sliced (optional)
1 tomato, deseeded and sliced (optional)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons white sugar
optional: add fresh dill or mint

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well to fully incorporate. Place in the fridge to let marinate, ideally at least one hour before serving.

Will keep for up to one week.

Serves 6 as a side.

Peas and love-

PS--Trying some new recipes this week:

Summer Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)
Chicken and Rosemary Kebabs
Tortellini Primavera

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coconut Pineapple Pops

Continuing on the theme of cool treats for hot weather, the boys and I've been on a great popsicle making run. We've done all sorts of icy treats in the past, be it red, white and blue for the 4th holiday or making homemade slow-melt popsicles, but this time we're turning tropical for our inspiration.

This simple recipe will have you dreaming of a Caribbean vacation in no time. I know this is a family food blog, but if you were so inclined, a wee dram of rum would turn these into a nice special treat for grown-ups!

Coconut Pineapple Pops

1 - 14 ounce can light coconut milk
1 - 1 1/2 cups diced fresh pineapple
juice of one lime
1/4 cup+ sugar

In a blender, combine all ingredients.

Blend until smooth.

Taste. Add any additional sugar as desired.

Pour into popsicle molds, or if you need to, ice cube trays with toothpicks!

Freeze and try to be patient...for once they are frozen, you will be feeling like you are on a tropical island (note the palm tree!):

If you have any leftover liquid, either save it for the next round, or serve over ice for a special summer drink!

Peas and love,

Monday, June 6, 2011

No-Bake Summer Cookies

We were having some new friends over for play date and R and G wanted to bake cookies. Trouble was, the weather was H-O-T and turning on the oven was not in my plan.

(Am I the only one whose kitchen habits reflect the weather outside, even with modern heating and air conditioning? Despite having a cool indoor A/C climate, when the weather is in the 90s outside, baking is not on my agenda.)

A little light bulb went off in my head and I decided to start researching ideas for no-bake cookies. I found a few different recipes, but I wanted something different, so we made up our own recipe. We've made this recipe multiple times and it alters I have listed many different options. Create away!

No-Bake Summer Cookies

2 cups non-sugary cereal (corn flakes, Os, rice krispies)
2 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup ground flax seed -OR- coconut -OR- wheat germ -OR- more oats
1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, dates, apricots)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (OR more dried fruit)
1/2 cup nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses -OR- honey -OR- corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl mix the cereal, oats, flax seed (or coconut or more oats), dried fruit and chocolate chips. Stir well to distribute ingredients evenly.

In a microwave safe pyrex or other container, combine the nut butter, brown sugar and molasses (or honey or corn syrup). Stir well. Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Stir. Microwave again for 45 seconds, stir, and quickly add the vanilla.

Pour the brown sugar mixture over the cereal and stir well.

Once combined, but still warm, roll into little balls.

Makes about 4-5 dozen cookies.

Peas and love,

PS--yeah, I know, I usually post our meals for the week on Mondays. It is a busy week full of random things, plus T-ball, the last day of school for R, and our block party. In other words, it is going to be a fly-by-the-seat of your pants type of cooking week.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fresh Food Time

We’re heading straight into my favorite fresh food time of the year.

Our little home garden is slowly growing, why just last night I harvested some collards and cooked them. Our peas are going gangbusters and despite a few bunny sightings, we have yet to lose our sweet pea crop like last year. The herbs are multiplying and our little seedlings are starting to be permanently planted in our garden plot.

I love eating straight from our garden, but when we visit R and G’s Papa and Grandma we also eat straight from the river/bay. A few fishing poles and two crab pots were all we needed to set our Memorial Day seafood extravaganza into full gear.

SPH setting bait for the crab pots:

Checking the pots:

Finding a crab that had just molted (translation: soft shell crabs to cook!):

Learning how to crack a crab and eating them mere yards and hours from their harvest point:

A treat for this Midwestern family to be sure!

We’re in the midst of the busy “end of school” time for R, G’s school let out before Memorial Day and summer is right around the corner. Our CSA deliveries have begun and so our menu for the rest of this shortened week reflect what we expect in today’s CSA basket:

Homerun Pasta Salad, Braised Collards, Marinated Cucumbers

Chili-Lime Salmon served over Salad

Summer Rolls

Now if you excuse me, I am off to go work in the garden!