Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stuffed Peppers

I never like being a "debbie downer" but lately I just can't get my mind off loss. Sure, we all lose things, games, jobs, etc. But human life is a whole different story. A few weeks back, I read the story of fellow food blogger Jennie, who shared news that she had suddenly lost her husband to a heart attack. Her story left me in tears for days, literally paralyzed at the thought. The ten year anniversary of 9/11 is coming up. Again, more loss of human life to remember. Then we have earthquakes and hurricanes ransacking the lives of those out east. It's all just a little too much right now - but it's suddenly a big fat reality check that I sure have a lot to be thankful for in my life.   And it's certainly a reminder to hug those we love a little more often.

Despite my haze, I've still been cooking - life must go on after all.  We have been getting some beautiful peppers in the farm share the past couple weeks and I was so excited to use them up.  One of the things I always love to do with them is stuff and bake them off until soft and brown around the edges.  I usually do a stuffing made with meat but this time I went all veg.  I sauteed some onion, summer squash, zucchini, and tomato {all from the farm} in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and a dash of dried basil.  Then I steamed up some brown rice and added that to the mix.  I then stuffed the peppers, topped with a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella, and baked until the cheese was just golden and peppers were soft.  The key is to cook the peppers for about 10 minutes before stuffing them.  That way the cheese on top doesn't burn and the insides just finish in the oven.

These were excellent - fresh, light, and full of flavor.  My husband and I devoured them for dinner - and ate them for lunch the next day.

Stuffed Peppers
Recipe by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
2 large peppers - any color {I had green and purple}, seeds removed, sliced in half lengthwise
extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small summer squash, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small tomato, diced
1 cup brown rice, cooked
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried basil
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
kosher salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with tinfoil and spray with cooking spray.  Place peppers cut side down on foil and bake for 10 minutes.

While peppers are baking, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, squash,  and zucchini.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes, until onions are translucent and the squash and zucchini are just cooked {you don't want them too soft}.  Add garlic, basil, salt and pepper.  Stir and cook for another minute.  At the very last minute, add in tomatoes and brown rice.  Cook on heat for about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Remove peppers from oven and flip them over to stuff {careful, they will be hot}.  Spoon in veggie and rice mixture to each pepper half.  Top with shredded mozzarella.  Return to oven for about 5 minutes or until cheese is just golden on top.

Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Basil Oil

I think this may be quite possibly one of the easiest, most flavorful recipes I have ever posted.  Basil oil - it's one of my new favorites in the kitchen these days.  I have practically used it on everything - meats, veggies, bread, pasta.  It's pesto's little sister - full of basil and garlic flavor, just a different texture {and a few less ingredients}.

Real Simple magazine got me hooked on this one.  What would we all do without Real Simple?  Seriously.  I've learned more tips and tricks from that magazine than I can count!  Thank you, Real Simple, for keeping life real simple.

I'd say this is a must make today.  Your garden has to be overflowing with basil by now {I know our CSA boxes have been}.  Don't let the basil go to waste.  Please.

Here are a couple ideas - but the options really are endless.  Be creative {smashed potatoes with basil oil, anyone?}

Basil Oil with Grilled Chicken

Basil Oil with Green & Yellow Beans, topped with goat cheese

Basil Oil
Recipe adapted from Real Simple
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
2 cups fresh basil
1 large clove garlic
1/2 to 3/4 cup good olive oil
pinch of kosher salt and ground pepper

In a blender, puree basil, garlic, and olive oil until smooth {I actually like my basil a little chunkier so I didn't puree completely.  Also, I did not drain my through a sieve as Real Simple suggests}.  Season with salt and pepper, pulse a couple times.  Pour oil over food of choice and enjoy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Farm Fresh Corn Salad with Garbanzo Beans, Tomato, and Feta

The corn has arrived!  Corn, corn, corn....part of me is utterly happy about it, but the other part of me is secretly crying inside because this symbolizes the end of summer.  Tear...

The Back to School section has been set up for weeks now at my local Target.  The air is a bit crisper at night, and my taste buds are yearning for everything pumpkin.  How does this happen?!

I love a good corn on the cob but sometimes it's nice to enjoy it off the cob.  I created this salad as a way to enjoy the oodles of corn we've been getting from the farm the past couple weeks.  It's fabulous - sweet, crunchy, and nummmmy.  This salad is really easy to make, too.  Boil the corn, cut the kernels from the cob, add it to a warm skillet with olive oil, season with Old Bay, add in garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and fresh dill.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Add in feta.  Stir until incorporated and serve!  Easy as that, and a lovely match for dining alfresco on the patio on a mild summer evening.

I will relish in these last few weeks of summer sunshine and warmth.  And eat corn.  Lots of corn.


Farm Fresh Corn Salad with Garbanzo Beans, Tomato, and Feta
Recipe by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
6 ears of corn, cooked and kernels cut from cobs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 15oz can garbanzo beans (I used TJ's organic)
2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta
salt and pepper to taste, if needed

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add corn and cook for about 2 minutes.  To the corn add tomatoes, beans, Old Bay, dill, and salt and pepper if needed.  Stir to incorporate and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and add feta.  Stir together and serve!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summer Squash Ribbon Salad

It's the dog days of summer - and Lily has decided that she will enjoy them inside lounging on the couch in the AC.  This is how our basset hound x springer sleeps.  So odd.....and incredibly un-ladylike.

But let's get to the matter at hand.  Summer squash ribbon salad.  We've been grilling a lot.  I always like to pair grilled food with a nice, simple, fresh side dish of some sort that takes very little effort, and preferably doesn't require an oven.  This dish is it. 

I don't think there's anything more beautiful than ribboned summer squash.  Look at that - so delicate and full of color.  I sliced up these beauties {yes, using my mandoline} and sauteed in some olive oil with crushed garlic.  Threw in some toasted pine nuts and fresh basil, seasoned with a dash of salt and pepper and voila!  Done.  The perfect side dish for any grilled masterpiece.  We ate this right up, including my husband, who is usually not a fan of any type of squash.  In fact he said to me, "I'd make this again."  Two thumbs up!!

The dog days of summer allow us to be a just a little lazy, right?  Right?

Well, whatever.  This salad is well worth the laziness.

Happy Eating!

Summer Squash Ribbon Salad
Recipe by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
2 medium summer squash or 1 large, sliced thin the long way
2 Tbsp oilive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
fresh basil, julienned - as much as you like
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add in crush garlic cloves, cook for about 1 minute or until they start to crackle in the pan.  Remove and set aside.  Add squash ribbons, season with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes or until they start to soften.  Add pine nuts.  Cook for another minute.  Remove from heat and stir in fresh basil.  Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pecan Squares

My sweet tooth has been in full force lately.  And really, what's up with that?  It's nearly 90 degrees every day with humidity through the roof - shouldn't I be craving fat-free juice pops or frozen grapes?  Seriously.  And it doesn't help that I happened to catch an episode of Barefoot Contessa last weekend, and she made the most amazing, out of this world pecan squares dipped in chocolate....holy, holy. 

So, three days later I was at the store buying raw pecans and pounds of unsalted butter to make these darn bars, because clearly I had convinced myself that I couldn't live without them.  That Ina, I swear. 

There were a few things I knew going into this, however.  I knew I wasn't going to make as many as Ina did, I wasn't going to dip them in chocolate, and I definitely wasn't going to cut them as big as she did.  The recipe she published is really like a triple batch in my mind.  It fills {well, it really overflows} a large jellyroll pan.  That's a lot of bars - especially for 2 people!  So, I did a little research to see if anyone had tried to halve the recipe to no avail.  I decided I was going to try it on my own.  Remember:  I am not a baker!

I ended  up halving everything on the ingredient list with the exception of a couple things in the crust.  The original recipe calls for 1 1/4 pounds of unsalted butter.  I ended up using 2.5 sticks of butter or about 3/4 pound.  It also calls for 3 extra-large eggs.  Since it's a little difficult to get 1.5 eggs, I used 2 medium eggs.  It worked perfectly.  Everything else I cut evenly in half.  Also, I baked mine in a 9x13 cake pan instead of a jellyroll.  I read numerous reviews from people complaining about the filling oozing over the sides and burning at the bottom of their oven - making for a nasty mess to clean up afterwards.  That didn't sound like fun so I used the cake pan to prevent that.  Worked like a charm!

These bars are worth every ounce of effort.  Give them a try!


Pecan Squares
Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:

For the Crust
2.5 sticks unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 medium eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

For the Filling
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
1.5 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp grated orange zest
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 pound pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray.

For the crust, beat the butter and the sugar in a large mixing bowl until light, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs and vanilla, mix well.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix the dry ingredients into the batter until just combined.  Press the dough into your 9x13 cake pan.  The dough may be sticky; sprinkle the dough and your hands with a bit of flour.  Bake for 15 minutes until the crust is set - you don't want it fully browned.  Allow to cool.

For the topping, melt the butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests in a large saucepan over low heat.  Cook until butter is completely melted, using a wooden spoon to stir.  Raise the heat and boil for about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in heavy cream and pecans.  Pour over the crust.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set.  Remove from the oven and cool.  Cut into bars and serve.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Vegetable Tian

Bambi paid me a visit the other day in the yard.  One of the things I love most about working from home is that I have 24/7 access to all the nature that surrounds us.  We live on a marsh that serves as home to a plethora of wildlife at any given point during the year.  My office is on the second floor of our home, and my desk is within eye shot of our picture windows that overlook all the beauty.  I literally get to watch the seasons go by as I work away.  I feel so lucky.  Lily loves to stare out the windows with me and watch in awe all that passes through on any given day.

In between nature watching and working, I cook.  It keeps me sane, and I'm thankful to have a husband that eats most of what I make.....especially this dish I'm sharing today.

Summer vegetable tian.  What is a tian, you ask?  It's a dish that originated in Provence, France, that features thinly sliced vegetables and herbs that are layered and then baked.  I absolutely love the way this dish looks - the color, the pattern.  It gets me everytime.  But, alas, the masterpiece must get eaten.  And it's quite delicious, not to mention extremely healthy for you as well. 

I used yellow summer squash, zucchini, and eggplant (of course from our CSA) in my tian this time.  I layered them all on a bed of caramelized onion with tarragon.  The taste is amazing - the tarragon just adds this depth of flavor that I can hardly describe in words.  Top everything with some cherry tomatoes and breadcrumbs and bake for about 45 minutes until golden on top.  This is the perfect side dish for any type of grilled fish or chicken.  I used the leftovers in quesadillas the next day.  To die for.

This is a must try this summer.  Happy Eating!

Summer Vegetable Tian
Recipe by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, sliced
1 Tbsp fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
1 large yellow summer squash, thinly sliced
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced
1 medium eggplant, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp butter, melted
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

I suggest getting everything prepped before assembly.  So, I sliced all my veggies, with the exception of the tomatoes ahead of time.   That way I had everything ready to go and assembly was a cinch.  I used my mandoline to do the slicing this time - highly recommend!

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until soft and brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Stir in tarragon.  While the onions are cooking down, I tossed all the other thinly sliced veggies in a big bowl and drizzled with a bit of olive oil and seasoned with a dash of salt and pepper.  Set aside until ready for layering.  When the onions are done, pour the mixture into the bottom of a baking dish of your choice.  I used my 6-inch round. 

Now comes the fun part. Layer the squash, zucchini, and eggplant on top of the onions, making a pattern of your choice. I followed the shape of my baking dish. Top the vegetables with the cherry tomatoes.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter and breadcrumbs. Stir until well incorporated. Pour over vegetables.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden brown. I did bake mine with the top on for about 20 minutes and then removed for the last half of baking.

Serve and Enjoy!