a simple spring salad

Tomato & Heart of Palm Salad
adapted from this recipe 

2 cups cherry, grape or yellow pear tomatoes, halved
1 can hearts of palm, cut into half inch slices
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
zest of 1 lime
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
cilantro, to garnish

Whisk the lime juice, olive oil, lime zest salt and pepper together to form a dressing. Toss with the tomatoes and hearts of palm. Garnish or toss with cilantro.

This can be served on it's own as a side salad, or could be used to top salad greens (just make a bit more dressing). It would also be a light and fresh accompaniment to tacos or burritos.

vanilla pop photoshop action by paint the moon
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It's the hubs first week at his new job. We're not quite settled yet, so the peach ice cream I've been dying to make is on the back burner for the time being. But the first day at a new job is sort of like the first day of school, give or take a few years, so I thought that he might need a sweet snack. Too bad he was working when I made them, I had to suffer and lick the spoon.

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road trippin'

Top: somewhere in Arizona; Bottom: Petrified Forest, AZ; Prescott, AZ; Gulfport, MI

What a long month it's been. We've been across the country - twice. We started our journey in central Florida, traveled though Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to finally wind up in Nevada - whew. Once in Nevada, we stayed for less than a week before we headed back to Pennsylvania for some time with family and a much needed dose of humidity. Now we're back and settling in, unpacking box by paper filled box (several forests were killed in the making of our cross country move).

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Vegetable Meatloaf with Balsamic Glaze

Looking at our freezer full of meat and our refrigerator full of veggies, I wondered, what on earth could use up a lot of these items pretty quickly. My mind settled on this meatloaf. It's a recipe that we've used often, as it's delicious and freezes well for later leftovers. It takes some effort to prepare, but the end result is well worth it. It's also a great, tasty way to get some veggies into a very meat-centric dish.

The original recipe found on Food Network is fantastic in it's own right, but feel free to experiment with other veggie and meat combinations. We've added jalapeno and poblano peppers instead of bell and it's turned out lovely. I always add an onion (white or yellow). We've also substituted lamb in place of the beef with no ill effects. When making this dish for gluten free folks, I've substituted Corn Flake crumbs for breadcrumbs.

This time, in particular, since we were using up whatever was in the fridge, we used a veggie combination of yellow bell pepper, two small zucchini, one white onion and a jalapeno pepper. We used  a combination of lamb, veal, pork and beef for a total of 5 lbs. of meat (I told you we were using up everything!).

The recipe below is our base recipe. It's a slight adaptation from the original, but as I've shown, it can be further modified each time to work with what you have on hand.

Vegetable Meatloaf
adapted from this Food Network recipe

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large zucchini, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 yellow pepper, finely diced
1 sweet onion, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste with coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 cup panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan
1 cup ketchup, divided
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

In a large saute pan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and heat for about 2-3 minutes. Add in the zucchini, peppers, garlic paste, half the red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the veggies are just soft. I usually take them off the heat once the onions start to appear translucent. Remove from the pan into a large bowl to cool more quickly.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, herbs, meat, bread crumbs and cheese. Add to that 1/2 c. of the ketchup and 2 tbsp vinegar as well as the cooled vegetables. Mix (with your hands) until everything is just combined. Don't over mix as you will end up with a tougher meatloaf.
On a large baking sheet (mine is non-stick, use parchment if yours is not), mold the meatloaf . Place in the oven for 30 minutes. While cooking, beat together the remaining ketchup, balsamic and red pepper flakes. After 30 minutes, brush the mixture onto the meat liberally and rotate the pan in the oven. We like to put ours in an old Ketchup container so it squeezes onto the loaf and the remainder can be used again since it doesn't have any uncooked meat juices in it. Cook for another 30-45 minutes or until the meat has reached an internal temperature of 165 F.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, cover and allow to rest before slicing. Top with a little extra ketchup-balsamic sauce for extra tang.

*Extra slices of meatloaf can be frozen for re-heating later as a great leftover solution. 

** My dad, Meatloaf King, actually said that he really liked this meatloaf when I made it for him. He said to keep it hush-hush though because there was no way he was chopping all those veggies. Use a food processor for extra speedy assembly.

Mushroom Soup

This mushroom soup is to die for. We originally began to make it to add to our Saucy Chicken recipe, but it is just as delicious on it's own.

Mushroom Soup
original recipe from Food Network

6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 c. chopped yellow onions
1/2 c. chopped celery
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
6 oz. shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, and sliced
6 oz. oyster mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, and sliced
8 oz. cremini or button mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, and sliced
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. brandy
6 c. chicken stock 
1 1/2 c. heavy cream

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and cayenne and cook for about 5 minutes, until tender. Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Toss in the mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper and cook until the mushrooms become soft and start to brown, approximately 7 minutes. Pour in the brandy and bring the entire mixture to a boil for about 2 minutes, or until the alcohol forms a glaze. Pour in the stock, return the mixture to a boil and then simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Remove from the heat and puree with a hand-held immersion blender. Add the cream, return to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings.

We usually freeze the soup in 2 c. Ziploc containers for Saucy Chicken or to eat with a baguette and side salad as a light meal on it's own.

Eggplant & Tomato Galette

A while back, we had made Andrea's Caramelized Onion & Zucchini Galette. It was delicious and, despite the fact that it had no meat, Nick said that he really liked it. The leftovers in particular worked well in his lunch (he never had time to heat up lunch and regularly ate leftovers cold). So, we knew we were galette fans. Immediately, we started to think up other ideas for galettes but they fell by the wayside as we became busier and eventually we forgot all about them...

We had an extra eggplant lying around and needed something to use it up. So often, eggplant is relegated to the side dish area of a meal, but we had a whole eggplant so a little more than side dish material. After some deliberation, this recipe came to be.

I happen to love it. The eggplant gives it enough "meaty" material that it's filling while the tomato and feta sauce give it a bright, tangy note that compliments the earthiness of the eggplant. The light crust of the galette dough keeps the meal from getting too heavy. They were yummy straight from the oven and eaten cold as leftovers (well, Nick says so).
Eggplant & Tomato Galette

1 recipe galette dough (recipe follows)
1 recipe feta sauce (recipe follows)
1 small eggplant, sliced thin & sweat with salt
3-4 plum or on the vine tomatoes (we used Campari), sliced thin
basil leaves, chiffonade, optional
feta crumbles, optional

Roll the galette dough onto parchment or wax paper to form a 10" circle. Place in the refrigerator to rest for 1 hour. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll (on a floured surface) to form a 16" diameter circle. Place the rolled out dough on a cornmeal dusted pizza peel or lined baking sheet.

To assemble the galette, start by spreading the feta sauce onto the galette dough, leaving 3 inches around the edges. On top of the sauce, arrange the eggplant in a slightly overlapping spiral pattern around the galette, moving towards the center until you have covered the surface. Evenly top with tomato slices and lightly salt and pepper the assembled galette.

Once assembled, gently fold over the edges of the dough to form a "crust." Start by folding a small portion of the dough onto the assembled portion and continue to pleat the dough until a circle has formed holding all the contents in place.

Bake the assembled galette in a 350 F oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the crust is slightly golden and cooked through.

Galette Dough:

1 1/2 c flour
1 t table salt
1 stick butter diced
1/4 c sour cream
1/4 c ice water
2 t lemon juice

In a food processor, combine flour, salt and cold butter. Pulse 10 times (1 second each) to form crumbles. Mix in the sour cream, ice water, and lemon juice and pulse 10 more times, until the mixture starts to form a ball. Remove from the food processor and place on a silpat or parchment paper. Press out into a 10" diameter circle, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Feta Sauce:
adapted from this Food Network recipe

2 c. plain yogurt
1/2 c. feta crumbles, well drained
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch cayenne
1 tbsp. dried mint leaves

Line a strainer with a layer of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Place the yogurt in the strainer and refrigerate. Let the water drain from the yogurt until the yogurt has reduced to 1 cup. It will take about 2-3 hours.

Combine the feta, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and cayenne in a blender and blend until smooth, adding more oil if needed. Add the yogurt and pulse to combine. Also add in the mint and blend until combined. This can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Blog Love and a Hello from the Road

We're still gypsies, traveling around the country with a suitcase. I can't wait until we get settled in our new home later this month so that we get our kitchen back. We've been eating out a ton and I miss having a space of our own to cook in. There have also been some delicious looking recipes posted recently that I can't wait to try (check them out after the photos).

Margarita Fish Tacos from Food for My Family
Watermelon Raspberry Granita from Kitchen Konfidence
Chili Lime Sweet Potato Taquitos from The College Culinarian
Better Than Fried Artichokes from Eat, Live, Run
Cauliflower Patties from Recipes from Europe
Orange Cinnamon Rolls from Foodies at Home
Tiramisu Cupcakes from Eat, Live, Run
White chocolate Covered Crispy Peanut Butter Eggs from Lemongrove Avenue
Cake Pops from Andrea the Kitchen Witch
DIY Saltwater Taffy from Creature Comforts
Honey Pie from Cocina Diary
Portobello Fries from The College Culinarian
Avocado & Grapefruit Salad from A Cozy Kitchen
Whipped Cream and Blackberry Tarts from Cocina Diary
Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake from Andrea the Kitchen Witch
Lemon Corn Waffles with Blueberry Sauce from Lemongrove Avenue
Homemade Shamrock Shake from The Brown Eyed Baker
Baked Doughnuts with Cinnamon Sugar from The Brown Eyed Baker
Honey Yogurt Ice Cream from Bojon Gourmet
Vanilla Honey Peanut Butter from The Comfort of Cooking
Italian Strawberry Creme Cake from The Comfort of Cooking
Avocado Ice Cream from Two Peas in Their Pod

Also, some very cute decor ideas:

DIY hanging mason jars from Going Home to Roost
DIY Repurpose Books into Picture Frames from Creature Comforts

And just in case you haven't noticed - I have re-done and re-published my "Daily Reads" page, which includes many of the blogs above and many more worth checking out! 

Home vs. Store: Almond Milk

So, the first HOMEmade vs. STOREbought installment is Almond Milk. I drink almond milk on a regular basis since I can't have cow's milk. The store bought almond milk is certainly not bad, and I prefer it to rice and soy milks, but I wondered how hard would this be to make? How would it compare to store bought?

Luckily, it's a breeze to make (those Almond Breeze people weren't kidding), soaking overnight is the only critical timely step, but since it can be done while you're sleeping, pretty dang easy. Here's the breakdown (followed by the recipe & verdict):

Cost of Homemade: $1.40 / 3.5 = $0.40 per serving

Cost of Storebought: $3.69 / 8 = $0.46 per serving (Almond Breeze Brand)

Active Cooking Time (includes peeling time, although it is optional): 1 hour, 30 minutes (60 minutes were peeling the shells from the almonds)

Ingredients of Homemade: almonds, filtered water, honey, vanilla

Ingredients of Storebought: almond milk (filtered water, almonds), evaporated cane juice, calcium carbonate, sea salt, potassium citrate, carrageenan, sunflower lecithin, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, D-alpha-tocopherol (Almond Breeze Brand)

Almond Milk
1 c. whole almonds - $1.22
3 c. water - $0.00
2 tsp. honey (more or less to taste) - $0.10
1/2 tsp vanilla (if you want vanilla flavored milk) - $0.08

Soak the almonds overnight in water (the water should just cover the nuts), covered.

The next morning (or however long you can wait), drain the almonds. If you want, you can toss them in the blender as is. I remove the shells (at this point, after soaking, they peel off rather easily anyway) prior. I start by banging each lightly with a mallet to break the shells. Then they easily peel off. It's a labor intensive step, but seeing as it can be done on the sofa, not really that difficult.

Add the almonds, honey and vanilla (optional) into a blender with 1 1/2 c. water. Blend this mixture until the almonds are ground and then add the remaining 1 1/2 c. water. Blend for about a minute or so until the mixture is smooth. 

If you want a thicker mixture and don't mind the pulp, you're all set. Since I was used to store bought almond milk and prefer a smoother texture, I simply strained mine through a nut milk bag, squeezing to get all the goodness out. If you want, you can use a tea towel or something similar. The nut milk bag is not a bad investment if you plan on making in regularly, but not necessary.

To store, place the milk in a sealed container and refrigerate. I put mine in a ceramic milk bottle (available here). It will last about 3 days in the fridge.

*To make a more creamy milk, use 2 cups water. For a thinner milk, use 4 cups. I wouldn't really use any more than that ratio as it tends to get pretty watery if you do, but it's all up to you and your tastebuds.

The pulp that remains at the end can be stored in the freezer for use in pie crusts, granola bars and similar recipes.

Verdict: Based on flavor alone, I would go with homemade. Based on convenience, obviously store bought wins hands down. I will probably use a combination of the two in the future - homemade if I feel like making it or have a recipe that I will use it in (ice cream comes to mind) or don't want to make a trip to the store. For topping cereal, the flavor difference isn't really noticeable. Because the flavor is so superior though, you might find yourself drinking it more often even if you don't regularly drink store bought. Short version: If you use almond milk regularly, it's an easy homemade item. If you use it occasionally, stick with store bought as it tends to have a longer shelf life and the cost difference is minimal.