Zoo Day!

This morning Alexis and I took a little field trip to the zoo. We have season passes so we pop over for a couple of hours here and a couple of hours there. This morning the zoo was quite literally, well a zoo! It was muggy, because it’s rained here for like two weeks straight, there were mosquitoes everywhere, and there were several big, rowdy field trip groups out for their own little jaunts. Then to top it all off it started raining! Oh well. Lex had fun though!

The funny part was this turtle:

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Look at that face…Could he be any more “You! Loud little things! Off my lawn!” He literally charged (or charged as much as a lumbering, over sized, hundred plus year old turtle can charge) toward the kids hovering around his pen to shoo them away. I felt immediate kinship with this guy! ;oP I mean seriously how cute is that scrunched up, puckered little face??

You wouldn’t know it from this picture but the place really was quite packed!

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Alexis loves to feed the geese and ducks. And before anyone asks “What’s up with the back of her legs?” she wears her Wellies (rain boots) with everything! And I do mean everything! They come up just below her knees. She loves to wear them with her PJs, shorts, dresses, skirts, you name it and I probably have a picture, in the hundreds of thousands of pictures I’ve taken of her over the past almost six years, of her wearing her Wellies with most everything she’s worn! Sometimes however they don’t go smoothly under everything she wears and are a little bulky, as they are here with her yoga pants above.

Alexis also likes to feed the goats, lamas, pigs, alpaca, deer and the donkey:

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I started putting hats on Lex when she was little to keep the sun off her pale skin and now she wears them everywhere! It’s like second nature for her to grab a hat when she leaves the house. She always gets comments on her “cool” hats so I think that is part of the fun for her too.

So all of that to say nothing, but I thought I’d share anyway! ;oP

Now let’s talk about next week! Last year Ice Cream week was such a hit that we’re going to do it again this year! And that week just happens to start on Monday!

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Starting Monday morning you’ll get at least six five new ice cream recipes! One recipe is actually a frozen yogurt variation and you’ll even get a completely non-dairy, vegan ice cream as well! So stay tuned!

Friday Link Love will be up soon. Hope you’ve all had a great Friday so far!

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies

I like to make things and send them to work with Jamison when he isn’t working from home. It let’s me have a little of something, without having to worry about eating all of it before it goes bad! A few weeks ago when Jamison was doing a training class I decided to make a brownie variant to send along with him. At the time I just happened to be craving peanut butter and chocolate so this is what resulted!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll most likely say it again, chocolate and peanut butter are the perfect pair! These brownies are tender, yet dense, with a peanuty bite in the middle. They are just perfect to share!

What You’ll Need for the Brownies:
2 sticks of butter
6 ounces of chocolate (Note: You can use any kind of chocolate you like. I used semi-sweet.)
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 teaspoons of baking powder
4 eggs
1/2 cup of buttermilk
2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour

What You’ll Need for the Peanut Butter Cheesecake Filling:
1 cup of peanut butter (Note: You can use creamy or chunky. I used smooth.)
1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup of organic cane sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies: Chocolate

In a large glass bowl melt butter and chocolate at half power until smooth. (Note: I start out at a minute and then from there proceed at 20 second intervals. You do not want to burn your chocolate!) Let melted mixture cool for 15 minutes.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies: Batter

Once chocolate has cooled a bit stir in sugar, sea salt and baking powder until incorporated. Next add eggs and buttermilk and stir until completely mixed. Add flour to the chocolate mixture and stir until just mixed.

Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and fill each cup 3/4ths of the way full. Using the back of a teaspoon make a dip in each brownie:

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies: Ready to Fill

Set aside.

In the bowl of your mixer cream together peanut butter, cream cheese and sugar until smooth.

Place a dollop of the peanut butter mixture in the center of each brownie:

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies: Ready to Bake

Bake for 10-15 minutes until brownies stick done.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies

Let cool and the store in an airtight container until serving.

Makes about 2 dozen brownie cups.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies: The Inside

Notes: I had some of the peanut butter filling left over so I put it in the fridge in a small dish and it made a fabulous no bake peanut butter cheesecake like dish for Jamison since the filling was gluten free!

Strawberry and Asparagus Salad

Strawberry Asparagus Salad

One of my favorite aspects of spring is when it’s easy to start picking up local produce making it that much easier to eat locally! In warmer climates it’s easier to eat completely locally year round. For those of us who live in cooler climates it is a bit more difficult, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. The season varies depending on where you live, but right now you can start finding greens, broccoli, cabbage, peas, various herbs and in some places you can start finding two of my favorite earlier in the season gems, asparagus and strawberries!

Today I’m going to share with you a quick, easy Strawberry Asparagus Salad that I came up with last year. We participated in a local CSA last summer and toward the end of the strawberry season I was a bit burned out on eating strawberries by themselves. There is just nothing like a fresh, ripe from the plant strawberry, but after a while it can be too much of a good thing. I froze some of the strawberries for use during the fall and winter and then I began to play around with them in the kitchen as well.

This salad is not only very good for you, it also has a bit of a wow factor, with very little work. Fresh, local and fancy, yet easy…What’s not to like about that?

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of asparagus, chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 springs of thyme, leaves stripped from stems
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pint of strawberries, chopped

Sauté asparagus and garlic in a little extra virgin olive oil with thyme leaves, sea salt and some freshly ground pepper until asparagus is slightly tender and slightly browned. Remove from heat.

While the asparagus is cooking cut strawberries and place in a glass bowl. Set aside.

Once asparagus is tender add asparagus/garlic mixture to the strawberries and toss to coat. Serve warm, or even chilled. It’s good either way!

How simple is that?

Notes: If you want to spice things up you could add in some red pepper flakes. You could also switch up the herbs and use rosemary instead.

What’s your favorite thing to do with local fruits and vegetables?

Better Bites: Portabella Mushrooms Pizza Caps

Better Bites: Portobello Pizza Caps

I like pizza and while pizza can get heavy/fattening, in moderation it’s not a bad thing. In fact take a look at your ingredients you’ve got the food groups represented all in one slice! But occasionally I like to lighten things up and make pizza with a base that consists of something other than dough like I did with these Mini Eggplant Pizzas.

My favorite pizza topping are vegetables. My ideal pizza consists of dough, sometimes whole grain, sometimes not, sauce, fresh mozzarella torn into small pieces, grated Parmesan, red onion, bell pepper, sun dried tomatoes, green olives, black olives and mushrooms, topped with some dried oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. When I make pizza nine times out of ten some variation of what is listed above is what I end up making for myself. But I also like goat cheese versions, chicken pizza and even BBQ pizza. Pizza is good!

This version takes an element you might find on a pizza and turns it into the base. It makes the pizza much lighter over all, given that the dough adds a lot of calories to the pizza in the first place. Portobello Pizza Caps are quick, delicious and gives you that pizza feeling, when you want pizza, but don’t want as many calories in the process!

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What You’ll Need:
Large portobella mushroom caps, washed and dried
Pizza or marinara sauce
Mozzarella
Parmesan
Pizza topping of your choice such as:
Chopped onion
Chopped bell pepper
Sun dried tomatoes or regular chopped tomatoes
Olives
Mushrooms
Oregano

Preheat oven to 425 F. (Note: I actually made this in my toaster oven. When it gets hot outside I use my toaster oven a lot because it doesn’t heat up the house as much.)

Place a portobello mushroom cap on a baking sheet bottom up:

Better Bites: Portobello Pizza Caps: Portobello Cap

Top center with pizza or marinara sauce:

Better Bites: Portobello Pizza Caps: Sauce

Top sauce with cheese:

Better Bites: Portobello Pizza Caps: Cheese

I used about a half ounce of each type of cheese.

Then top with your favorite toppings and a sprinkle of dried oregano:

Better Bites: Portobello Pizza Caps: Ready to Bake

Bake for 20-30 minutes until portobello mushrooms is tender and then serve!

Better Bites: Portobello Pizza Caps: Dig In!

Notes: I had originally thought of this as a grill recipe, but we don’t actually have a grill (boy do I miss having a grill!) so obviously that didn’t happen. You could use meat toppings too if you liked, but as I said I like veggie versions of pizza the best.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Strawberries and rhubarb…Such a fabulous combination! My mom isn’t a fan of rhubarb so I hadn’t tried it until a couple of years ago, but I found that I really liked this vegetable. Did you know that? Did you know that rhubarb is a vegetable? Since it is often paired with fruit, some don’t. There is your useless fact for the day! ;oP

Last week as I mentioned in my Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam post I picked up some rhubarb and strawberries. The first thing I did was make a cobbler! Then I proceeded on to the jam. I want to go see if they have any more rhubarb on Friday so I can freeze some and have it later in the year if I want. (I so need to get a stand up freezer for storage in the garage!) Plus who doesn’t like to enjoy strawberries when they are fresh and ripe? That alone makes me want to go to the orchard now!

Anyway…Where was I?

This cobbler is fabulous and as always it’s not something you’d eat every day due to the sugar and fat, but oh my….Yum! If you like cobblers and you’re a fan of strawberries and rhubarb then this is the dessert for you!

What You’ll Need for the filling:
Strawberries
Rhubarb
1 cup of organic cane sugar

What You’ll Need for the “Dough”:
2 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup of organic cane sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 stick of butter, melted
2 eggs
1 1/2-2 cups of buttermilk
1/3 cup of organic cane sugar (for topping)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Note: I make this in a deep dish that is between the size of an 8 X 8 inch dish and a 13 X 9 inch dish.

Spray your dish with a little non-stick spray and place a layer of strawberries and rhubarb covering the bottom of the dish:

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler: Ready for Sugar

You want 1-2 cups of each fruit. If you like more strawberry, then add more. If you like more rhubarb, then add more of that.

Cover the rhubarb and strawberry mixture with sugar and give a quick stir. Microwave on high 2-3 minutes until syrup forms:

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler: Saucy

Set aside.

In a large glass bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt until incorporated. Add butter, eggs and buttermilk to the mixture and stir to mix. (Note: You may need some or all of the buttermilk, it just depends on humidity and such. You want a thick batter like mixture.) Spread the mixture out over the top of the strawberries/rhubarb:

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler: Ready for Sugar Topping

Next sprinkle the top of the batter with sugar:

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler: Ready to Bake

Bake cobbler for 45-55 minutes until golden brown and done through:

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler: Baked

Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes and serve.

Notes: This is good right out of the oven or at room temperature.

Spicy Black Beans and Shrimp

Spicy Black Beans and Shrimp

I love shrimp. I’ve always been fond of the tender little morsels. I also love spicy, and as I get older the more spicy I like things! A few weeks ago I made some steamed shrimp for dinner for Alexis and me and I had some left overs so I decided it would be fun to take the left overs, pair them with some rice and beans and make a healthy spicy shrimp/bean/rice dish and I did just that.

This dish definitely was spicy, but it was a nice heat. This makes for a hearty, yet healthy dinner that really hits the spot if spicy is your thing too. Paired with a tossed salad it makes the perfect meal.

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2-4 ribs of celery, chopped
1 cup of wild rice
2 1/2 cups of broth or water
1 – 15.5 ounce can of black beans, undrained
2 tablespoons of Creole seasoning (Note: I used Tony Chachere’s)
2-3 cups of steamed shrimp

Spicy Black Beans and Shrimp: Veggies and Rice

In a medium sized pot saute onion, bell pepper and celery in extra virgin olive oil until tender. Add rice and Creole seasoning stirring to mix then cook for two or three minutes to toast the rice.

Add beans and broth or water then bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes covered stirring occasionally. Remove lid and cook 10 more minutes or until water is absorbed and rice is tender.

Once rice is tender and liquid is absorbed add shrimp and stir to mix. Cook for 3 minutes to heat shrimp through and serve.

Spicy Black Beans and Shrimp: Shrimp

Notes: You could use chicken if you aren’t a fan of shrimp, or leave out the meat all together for a vegetarian/vegan option. Also let me stress again this is very spicy so if spicy isn’t your thing you could leave out the Creole seasoning and add chili powder or just salt and pepper instead. It changes the dish fundamentally though.

Better Bites: Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Tomato and Cucumber Salad

How was everyone’s weekend? Ours was good. On Saturday we went to Alexis’ art class and then out for lunch and to run some errands. On Sunday Jamison and Alexis went to church and I stayed behind to do my weekly cleaning. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have to stop every two minutes or so to read a book, or play a game! ;oP Jamison and I even found time to watch a few movies this weekend. When does that ever happen??

Yesterday winter came back to our part of Maryland for a bit. It was a bit nippy! We even had a threat of frost last night, but luckily it didn’t happen. I covered all my herbs, veggies an flowers just in case though! Today the high is supposed to be in the 60’s and then tomorrow and the rest of the week we’re supposed to be back in the 70’s. I like the 70’s…I wish they’d stick around a bit longer!

Now let’s talk some tomatoes!

When Jamison’s parents came to see us a month or so ago, Jamison’s dad brought me a big bag of tomatoes from south Georgia! Talk about getting on my good side! ;)) Alexis and I enjoyed tomatoes for a week after they were here…Big, ripe, juicy tomatoes! We had tomato slices, tomato sandwiches and I even made a salad or two. This salad is one that I threw together, but it came out so good!

With just a few simple ingredients you’ve got a fabulous salad that tastes amazing and takes no time to make. There is just nothing like a fresh tomato and when a dish tastes great, but is healthy too it makes it that much better!

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What You’ll Need:
4 cups of chopped tomatoes
2 cups of chopped cucumber
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cups of freshly dill, chopped
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup of rice vinegar

In a large glass bowl toss together tomatoes and cucumbers until mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Next add chopped dill and toss to incorporate.

In a bowl or canning jar stir or shake together oil and vinegar until mixed. (Note: This is so easy to do in a canning jar. Just slap on the lid and shake and you’re ready!) Pour mixture over the salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately or let sit in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Notes: As with any salad you make with vegetables and vinegar this really is an eat it now sort of dish. If you let it sit for too long the vinegar starts to break down the flesh of the vegetables. Also you could add in some steamed shrimp or roasted turkey or chicken if you wanted to “beef” it up a bit. I tried it one afternoon with turkey for lunch and it was great!

Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

This past weekend I was restless. With Alexis not being able to be around people the last few weeks due to her illness and their concerns that she might pick up something else on top of what she already had, I was more than tired of being in our house, looking at the same walls. While I’m a homebody of the biggest sort for the most part, if I HAVE to stay somewhere without the choice to go out, then I get a bit stir crazy!

On Saturday I decided to get out and run some errands. Jamison was at home, so I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to keep my very social, very friendly, “I love people!” child from interacting with folks who might be carrying this germ or that that her system might not be able to handle yet, and left her at home with “Dad” as she calls him, while I went and got a few things done.

When I finished doing what I needed to do, I didn’t feel like rushing straight home. Jamison was watching Miss G so I decided to take another route home. I would say more scenic, but this whole area is scenic, so it was beautiful either way. It’s spring, the trees are either sprouting or entirely green and the whole world is just stunning! Other than spring allergies that come from these pollinating beings, this is why I love spring!

I was driving along, and yes singing my songs, when I remembered that it was now May and that meant the orchard was open! I decided to pop over and see if they had any peas yet, because ours are still growing and not producing yet, and Alexis loves her some peas! She’s always liked them, so I thought I’d drop by to see if they had any. They didn’t, but I was pleasantly surprised to find some strawberries!

I’ll confess no matter what time of year, you’ll usually find strawberries in the fridge as they are another of Miss G’s favorite things. But there is just something about a plant ripened, local strawberry that makes spring so fun! The taste of fresh, ripe strawberries just can’t be beat! I picked up a container, along with some spinach and spring onions and headed home. The strawberries were so good I just had to run over and get some more on Tuesday and this time when I went they had rhubarb too!

Rhubarb is one of those things you either like or you don’t. I hear people talking about it each spring, and I’ll admit I’ve had rhubarb all of once, when I experimented with it a couple of years ago, but I just couldn’t pass up those beautiful stalks when I saw them on Tuesday, so I picked up a couple of bunches along with the strawberries and headed home. But what was I going to do with them?

I decided that it would be fun to try and make a strawberry rhubarb jam and I was very pleased with the results. (I also made a strawberry rhubarb cobbler…You’ll most likely see that one next week!) The jam ended up being tart, but with just the right hint of sweetness. I’m not a fan of overly sugary jams, and if you’ve ever looked at jam recipes most of them call for inordinate amounts of sugar! 1 cup of fruit to 1 cup of sugar in a lot of cases and let me just say that is more than sugar overkill! Fresh, ripe fruit doesn’t need a lot of sugar, it just needs a bit to compliment the flavor and that’s what I’ve done here.

So if you like strawberries, rhubarb and a little tang, this is the jam for you!

Note: You can can this, or store it in the fridge. I’m not going to give you canning instructions because although I do can from time to time I’m not an expert. You can get more information from the National Canning Center. They have a great page set up to tell you exactly what to do!

This was also the first time I used pectin. I’ve used gelatin in the past, but wanted to try something different. I thought for a while it was going to be more like Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup, but overnight it firmed right up! I was very pleased.

What You’ll Need:
6 cups of strawberries, chopped (Note: I like to have big chunks of fruit, but you can chop the fruit and fine or as coarse as you like.)
4 cups of rhubarb, chopped
1 cup of sugar
The zest of one lemon
The juice of one lemon
4 teaspoons of pectin
4 teaspoons of calcium water

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam: Strawberries and Rhubarb

Chop fruit and pour into a large stock pot, stir to mix. Add sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice and stir to coat. Let sit for an hour or until juice forms.

Once liquid has formed bring mixture to a quick boil. Reduce heat and cook for 10-20 minutes or until the fruit starts breaking down. You want a soupy mixture, with tender fruit.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam: Ready to Seal

Once mixture is soupy and tender remove from heat. Remove 2 cups of the mixture and place in a glass bowl. Whisk in pectin and calcium water (Note: I’ve never used pectin before. I used Pomona’s Pectin and I don’t know if pectin usually uses calcium water or if that is just a Pomona thing.) into the removed strawberry/rhubarb mixture until relatively smooth and then dump this back into the pot and stir until mixed.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam: Setting

At this point you can either can the mixture or you can store it in the fridge. I canned it and ended up with two quart jars. I would have preferred smaller jars, but I didn’t have the lids.

And there you have jam!

Notes: As I mentioned in the intro I wasn’t sure if this was going to set up. I made this around three yesterday and there was a warning on the box that pectin continues hardening until the mixture is completely cool. When I came upstairs last night at 8 the jars were still warm and the mixture was not set. When I went down to the kitchen this morning it had set nicely! Also if you wanted to add more sugar you could, but I liked the slightly sweet, slightly tart results.

Blueberry Cashew Granola

Blueberry Cashew Granola

I love granola! In the past I’ve experimented with several granola recipes, because well you know me…I like to experiment! It makes the perfect snack or even a great breakfast alone or with some yogurt. Not only is it versatile, it’s yummy too!

For a while I’ve wanted to try a version that was minus an added fat source. The first batch I made used butter and the second go around used peanut butter and while this one has fat in the cashews themselves it does not have an added fat beyond that.

This version also utilized dried blueberries and let me tell you I LOVE dried blueberries! If you aren’t a blueberry fan you could just as easily use raisins, or even dried cranberries, though I wouldn’t do that and if you’ve been Dianne’s Dishes for a while you’ve heard my cranberry rants, but to each their own.

Homemade granola is not only really easy to make, it’s cheaper, and the flavor just can’t be beat! If you’ve never tried your hand at making a batch try it…Trust me you can’t go wrong!

What You’ll Need:
2 cups of whole grain oats
2 cups of cashews (Note: You can use raw or roasted. I used some that were roasted with sea salt.)
2 cups of coconut flakes (Note: You want big flakes. I like Let’s Do Organic Coconut Flakes.)
2 cups of pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
2 cups of dried blueberries
1 cup of maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Blueberry Cashew Granola: Mixed

In a large bowl mix together oats through blueberries and toss to mix. Pour maple syrup over mixture and stir to coat.

Spread mixture out on a very large baking sheet:

Blueberry Cashew Granola: Ready to Bake

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown:

Blueberry Cashew Granola: Baked

Let cool completely and then break up and store in an airtight container.

Notes: Next time I make this I’m going to spread the mixture between two pans instead of baking it on just one. You could add other seeds or nuts to the mixture if you liked. Sunflower seeds are always a good addition an sometimes I like to add hemp seed too.