Avocado and Red Bean Salad

Avocado and Red Bean Salad

Who says salad has to have lettuce? It’s fast and easy to toss together some great ingredients and come out with a wonderful salad sans the lettuce. This particular combination has a bit of a Mexican flare. It makes a great lunch or even a good pot luck type dish. The best part is that it’s quick, easy and healthy. What’s better than that?

What You’ll Need:
1 – 15.5 ounce can of red beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup of red onion, chopped fine
1 large avocado, chopped
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of paprika
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A pinch of chili powder
A pinch of of cumin

Toss together all ingredients and serve immediately.

Notes: Due to the avocados you want to make this right before serving and no more than 30 minutes ahead of time. You could also add the avocado later and mix up everything else ahead of time. You can add other types of beans in place of or along with the red beans. Corn and/or tomatoes would also be a nice addition.

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff

Saturday was my sister’s birthday and I’m a big believer in celebrating a birthday! Some people as they get older don’t want to celebrate their life anymore and choose to mourn the day instead, but I think birthdays should be embraced and reveled in. Life is a grand adventure and birthdays simply remind us of our many adventures along the way!

I invited Katherine, Ben and Nelson over for dinner to celebrate. The tradition at our house growing up was that you got to pick what we had for dinner on your birthday and you got to pick your cake. Katherine chose Beef Stroganoff and chocolate cake with almond buttercream icing. Katherine also wanted a salad, some sort of veggie and some yeast rolls, so I made a big spinach salad with a choice of homemade ranch or blue cheese dressing, some roasted asparagus and a batch of Parker House rolls. We broke out the good china and had a grand old time!

Birthday Table

Over all everything came together well. The rolls could have risen a bit longer, but I got side tracked. The Beef Stroganoff was a play on the one my mom used to make as a child, that I adapted into Mushroom Stroganoff over the years. This go around though I skipped the onion soup mix and used all fresh ingredients and instead of ground beef I took a pot roast and sliced it across the grain into somewhat bite sized chunks. The result was wonderful! I highly recommend this if you like this sort of dish!

What You’ll Need For the Beef Stroganoff:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small package of mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of flour
2 1/2 pounds of beef tips or other type of beef cut into chunks
1 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 cup of sour cream
1 package of egg noodles cooked according to package directions

In a large pot or skillet (and I mean LARGE!) saute onion, mushrooms and garlic until tender with a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Once the veggies are tender add two tablespoons of flour and cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly. Add beef and cook for about 15 minutes until it’s mostly brown stirring occasionally so it won’t stick. (Note: A little red here and there is not a problem as you’ll be cooking the dish a while more.) Add tomato sauce and cook for 35-40 minutes to allow the beef to become tender. Add sour cream and cook for 2 minutes or until heated through. Serve over egg noodles.

Notes: In a pinch you could use onion soup mix. Just omit the onion and garlic. You could also use garlic powder or salt if you’re out of fresh garlic. Having made it both ways I highly recommend the fresh onion and garlic. Both variations are good, but the fresh version definitely was the best! You can also substitute more mushrooms for the beef to make the vegetarian equivalent.

After dinner we dug into the cake!

Katherine's Birthday Cake

Cake: The Inside

The basket weave wasn’t as neat as I would have liked, but the icing was having issues on Saturday so we went with what came out. It turned out ok in the end and it tasted delicious, so that’s all you can ask for. :o)

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

I just love this time of year! The mornings are brisk, the days are cool and those beautiful fall leaves are right around the corner!

Ah…Fall! My second favorite season, Winter being my favorite. Winter, Fall, Spring and then Summer. That’s my list! ;o)

My sister commented the other day that it has become Pumpkin Central around here at Dianne’s Dishes the past few days and Alexis and I have certainly been rocking the pumpkin recipes! I mentioned before that it is amazing how many things you can make with three small sugar pumpkins! But when they are local, fresh and oh so lovely, why not utilize them?

For years I’ve read about Pumpkin Soup, but I had never tried it because it sounded odd to me. I’m not sure why that is given I love Butternut Squash Soup and the two are very similar, but sometimes you just get an idea about food in your head and it takes actually trying something to knock out a preconceived notion.

I decided to whip up a batch of soup and much to my surprise I loved it! Alexis did too. It’s warm, healthy and hearty. Who can ask for a better combination?

What You’ll Need:
4 cups of raw pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks (Note: I like to cut the sugar pumpkins into slices as you would a cantaloupe. From there you can scoop out the seeds on one side and use a potato peeler to peel the skin off the other side. Then it’s simple to cut the slice into chunks once it is scooped and peeled.)
1 large sweet potato or yam, chopped into chunks (Note: You don’t have to remove the skin from the sweet potatoes. They have a lot of vitamins and such you don’t want to get rid of, especially in this soup where it’s all blended in the end anyway.)
2 large carrots, cut into chunks (Note: Again there’s no need to peel them.)
1 small onion, skins removed and cut into chunks
3 or 4 thyme branches (Note: If you want you can strip the leaves off the branches, but you don’t have to. As the thyme cooks the leaves will fall away from the stem and then you can remove the stems before you blend.)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Water or vegetable broth

Dump all of your ingredients into a large stockpot. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt (about a teaspoon or so) and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the ingredients with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and cook until ingredients are all completely cooked through and tender.

Remove veggies from cooking water and reserve water. Remove thyme branches and discard. Process veggies in a food processor or blender until smooth adding some of the cooking water to help smooth out the mix. You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your food processor or blender. Return pureed mixture to your empty stock put and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes over medium to ensure it is warm through. Serve immediately.

Notes: You could add any root vegetable that you like to the mix. Parsnips would be good especially. It’s a very simple mixture, but it’s delicious none the less. You could also make this with a couple of cans of canned pumpkin by adding it during the processing stage or you could freeze pumpkin to use later.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

One of the best things about getting pumpkins is being able to make roasted pumpkin seeds! There are so many ways to roast them…With herbs…With honey…Or even just with a little sea salt! No matter how you roast them you’ve got a fun and easy snack. These are one of Alexis’ favorite go to snacks…Mine too! 😉

What You’ll Need:
Pumpkin seeds, rinsed and cleaned
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Rinse the pumpkin seeds in water and drain. Make sure the seeds are cleaned and the pumpkin “string” are gone. Spread the seeds onto a large cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 15-20 minutes until seeds are browned. Let cool and store in an air tight container.

Notes: Roasted pumpkin seeds are good as a yogurt or ice cream topping. They are also good in granola. Some people use oil to roast them, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I think they taste better without the oil.

Pumpkin Surprise Muffins

Pumpkin Surprise Muffins

Last weekend Alexis saw some local sugar pumpkins and wanted to get some. She’s all about pumpkins. Loves them! We decided one of the things we could do was to make some Pumpkin Muffins and I decided it would be fun to add a little twist, a “surprise” if you will. What’s better than a surprise? Most people like surprises. The “surprise” in these muffins is a little bite of cheesecake in the middle of each one! I decided this would make a good treat for Jamison to take to work since Fall is on our doorstep. I’m really enjoying making up new recipes and testing them out on Jamison’s coworkers! Hopefully they are enjoying it too. 🙂

What You’ll Need for the Pumpkin Batter:
3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour (Note: I had intended to use White Whole Wheat flour, but I realized I was out. You could easily substitute it for all of or part of the white flour.)
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 cups of mashed pumpkin
1 stick of butter, melted (Note: You could use unsweetened apple sauce instead of the butter. Again this was my intention, but I realized I was out of apple sauce.)
1 cup of natural brown sugar
1/2 cup of maple syrup
1 cup of sour cream
3/4 cup of buttermilk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of vanilla

What You’ll Need for the “Surprise”:
1 package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/8 cup of unbleached all purpose, flour

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix dry ingredients (flour through sea salt) in a large bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl mix remaining ingredients (pumpkin through vanilla) and stir until incorporated. Mix dry mixture with wet mixture and stir until completely mix. Set aside.

Cream together cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. Add flour and mix until just incorporated. Set aside.

Spray two muffin pans with non stick spray. Fill each cup 1/4 of the way full with pumpkin batter and then add a dollop of the “Surprise” mixture (roughly 1 tablespoon or less) into the middle of each cup. Top with more pumpkin batter to cover the “surprise”.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until muffins stick done.

Makes about 24 muffins

Pumpkin Surprise Muffins

Notes: You could add a cup of nuts and/or raisins to the pumpkin batter for even more yummy goodness. We used fresh pumpkin that we roasted in the oven and mashed ourselves. This process gave lovely little bits of pumpkin throughout the muffins. You could easily used canned pumpkin instead.

Fresh Tomato Risotto

Fresh Tomato and Thyme Risotto

9/11…Who can forget that day? I can still tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing that morning when I found out what was happening and how Jamison’s dad and I had been in DC just a few days before. The whole day was surreal, but then again you can probably tell me the exact same things about your day that horrible morning as well.

It’s hard to believe it’s been six years. On days like this you just need a little comfort food! Add in some fresh veggies and herbs to this dish and you’ve got the perfect mix of fresh and comfort. Sometimes you just need to indulge and why not do so with some good stuff thrown in as well.

What You’ll Need:
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 a red onion, chopped
4 cups of grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced into quarters (Note: I used two cups of orange cherry and 2 cups of red cherry tomatoes.)
2-4 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups of risotto rice
2 cups of broth
2 1/2 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled
1/3-1/2 cup of Parmesan, grated

In a large pot or skillet saute onion, tomatoes and thyme with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper in extra virgin olive oil until tomatoes and onion are soft. Stir in risotto and cook for 2 minutes. Add broth and stir occasionally until broth evaporates. Add water 1 cup at a time and repeat the stirring until it evaporates. Keep adding water 1 cup at a time until the rice is tender. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted. Let sit for at least 5 minutes until serving. (Note: The longer it sits the creamier it gets.)

Notes: As always risotto is not a hard dish to make and you can tweak this until your hearts content. You could use different cheeses or add other veggies. You could use rosemary instead of thyme or another herb of your choice. It’s an easy dish to mix and match.

Not Your Mama’s Fried Okra

"Fried" Okra

Fried okra is one of those quintessential Southern foods that automatically makes you think good, not to mention heavy and fat laden, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Growing up in Tennessee it was amazing the many different ways that I had this dish. Some people dipped the okra in batter and then deep fried it, others fried it up in a pan with bacon fat or lard. My mom’s method of cooking was pan fried in melted shortening, but regardless of how it was made and no matter how good it tasted you could bet it was heavy as all get out!

When we moved to Maryland it obviously became harder to find okra as it’s more of a southern crop. I finally found a local farm owned by some older folks who grew it and that is where I picked it up, that was until last summer. Last summer, and I’m not sure why, the local farm closed and I think it’s because the couple became too old to farm the land. They were the sweetest little couple. The gentleman reminded me of my grandfather, but I digress.

Anyway, I could occasionally find okra at Whole Foods and once in a blue moon it would show up at my local Giant store, but it was definitely harder to find. At the Farmer’s Market on Saturday one of the vendors had okra and I was excited to see it as I hadn’t seen it all summer! Over the years my sister and I have slimmed down the “fried” okra and substituted the healthy fat of olive oil, for the heavier unhealthy fats and/or trans fats. You still “fry” it, but you use a lot less frying medium and as I mentioned that medium is healthier too.

Oh and it’s easy to make to boot! That’s always an added plus! If you like okra, then you’ll love this!

What You’ll Need Per Cup of Okra:
Okra, sliced
1/4-1/3 cup of corn meal
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat a large pan over medium heat with a thin layer of olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan).

In a bowl mix corn meal, sea salt and black pepper. Add okra and toss to coat.

Okra Ready to Cook

Add prepared okra to the preheated pan and cook stirring occasionally until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Notes: You can also use this method for zucchini, squash or green tomato slices.

Shrimp and Veggie Kabobs with Thyme

Shrimp and Veggie Kabobs

These kabobs are so versatile! You can add the veggies you like and/or meat of your choice. You can bake them, pan fry them or even cook them on the grill. It’s a perfect way to utilize fresh veggies from the garden for a quick, easy dinner. Pair with some wild rice and you’ve got the perfect, healthy, summer meal!

What You’ll Need For Two People:
1 small zucchini, cut into chunks
1 small yellow squash, cut into chunks
4 small tomatoes, your choice of type
4 whole mushrooms, your choice
2 small chunks of onion, your choice of type
8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Kabob skewers(Note: If you choose to grill the kabobs it is wise to soak the kabob sticks in water if they’re wooden for at least 20 minutes so that they won’t catch on fire.)

Preheat oven to 425 F, heat frying pan over medium heat or ready grill.

Arrange veggies on kabob stick. Brush each kabob with olive oil, sprinkle with thyme leaves, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Veggie Kabobs

Repeat process with shrimp by placing 4 large shrimp per kabob.

Shrimp Kabobs

Bake vegetable kabobs for 25-30 minutes, pan fry with a little non-stick spray for 20-25 minutes or grill for 10-15 minutes until veggies are tender. Bake, pan fry or grill shrimp kabobs for 3-5 minutes until pink. Serve immediately.

Notes: I used both red and yellow tomatoes. I also used button and baby portabella mushrooms. I also chose red onion. Asparagus would be a nice addition. Leeks would be good too. Any veggies that you like works. Mix it up! You could also use chicken or beef in place of the shrimp. Beef and chicken would take longer to cook than the shrimp so they could be placed on the same kabob as the veggies.