Category Archives: Gardening

Mini Turkey Lasagnas & the Woes of Summertime

Summer has never been my favorite time of year (except for summer of 2008—yeah that was fun!).  Because I have crazy sensitive skin, summertime has become synonymous with sunburn. If that’s not bad enough…I’m allergic to sunscreen.

This year–in particular–has been especially difficult because of the high temperatures and terrible humidity. Not to mention the drought.  Okay…I mentioned it.  We need rain!

In my opinion, the only thing good about summer (as an adult) is the vegetables.  I love being able to just step outside my home and come back inside–into the air conditioning–with a basket full of peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs.

Some vegetables from the garden

I am especially proud of my shallots.   I am an amazing shallot grower, apparently.

beautiful shallots

In fact, I’m so proud of my shallots, I tear up.  Literally.  They make me cry!  I’m not sure what the reason is, but these tiny, purple-hued beauties make me bawl worse than a baby!

Their crying power is way stronger than that of any onion.  But, they taste incredible; so the crying is worth it.  I guess.

When I woke up today, I planned on going to the gym.  But those plans quickly changed.  The weather report said it was 71degrees outside, and I knew I better take advantage of that!  I decided to clean up my gardens and plant a few more cone flowers, mums and burning bushes.

When I finished, I came back inside with all this:

 

and had Lasagna on my mind.

You see, I love lasagna.  A lot.  In fact, I can’t be trusted around it.

Knowing this, I decided to make mini lasagnas instead of a giant pan full.  They’d be perfectly portioned and I wouldn’t have to worry about eating more than my share.

Instead of noodles, I used wonton wrappers.  This isn’t anything new, and I’ve seen tons of stuff made with the little dough squares–from raviolis to tacos…to pie crusts!  How versatile! 

I figured I’d use the wonton wrappers instead of traditional pasta for three reasons.

  1. There is no need to pre-cook the wonton wrappers, so I won’t burn my fingers.  I always burn my fingers on lasagna noodles!
  2. The wrappers fit perfectly into a muffin pan.
  3. Wonton wrappers are relatively low calorie.  They ring in at 20 calories/each.

I also decided to use ground turkey meat.  I cooked the meat with finely diced green bell peppers, basil, oregano, lots of garlic, and a bunch of finely diced mushrooms.

Because I’ve been scaling back the amount of meat I cook with, adding the mushrooms allowed me to use less turkey and also stretched the meat into multiple meals–instead of just the one.  In fact, I have made these lasagnas twice this week, and still have over half a pound of the cooked meat left over (frozen, for some other time).

I turned the tomatoes, garlic and basil into a simple–and flavorful–sauce (no real recipe, sorry!  I just tossed stuff together, blended it up and then let it cook for about 10 min. to reduce).

And made a mixture of basil, cottage cheese (3/4 c.) and Parmesan cheese (1/4 c.).  [Enough for 6 mini lasagnas]

I then layered everything together in a muffin pan which I sprayed with a little olive oil.  I started with a wonton wrapper, added a little sauce, cottage cheese mixture, meat, more sauce…and repeat.  I then topped the mini lasagnas with a little shredded cheese and some dried herbs.

The lasagnas were popped into a 375 degree F oven, and were baked for about 20 minutes–or until they started to get a little browned.

I let them cool in the pan for a good 10 minutes before I popped them out–simply using a fork.

 

Each mini lasagna was a little over 150 calories, so I had two.  And I’ve got to tell you…I enjoyed every single one of those delicious calories!

I plan on making another batch this weekend, but instead of baking them, I’m going to freeze them.  If all works out, I think they’d be a great way to preserve my garden’s bounty! 🙂

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Aloo Gobi (Indian Spiced Potatoes and Cauliflower)

Since knowing Piyush and his family, I have eaten–and grown to love–foods I swore I didn’t like.  Foods I absolutely, positively hated.   Foods like: cucumbers, chilies,tomatoes (unless they were served in a bottle clearly marked HEINZ–I love ketchup) and the oh-so-dreaded cauliflower!

On the (very) rare occasions that my mom prepared this unpopular–at least in my household–white vegetable, it was either served raw with ranch dressing (I hate ranch!) or boiled until it turned to mush.  It smelled funny; and I didn’t like it.

I had completely banished cauliflower from my life.

That is, until I tasted aloo gobi.

Aloo Gobi: Indian Spiced Potatoes and Cauliflower

I don’t quite remember the first time I tried this dish, it was so long ago; but I can tell you that it changed my life.

It taught me that vegetables could–and do–have flavor.   This simple–yet complex– vegetarian dish also helped me to realize that vegetables don’t have to be mindlessly tossed on my plate alongside a giant hunk of chicken.

Instead, they can shine on their own; as a flavorful and filling meal.

Aloo Gobi is an easy, and very inexpensive, dish to make on a busy evening.  In it’s simplest form, it consists of potatoes, cauliflower and Indian spices.  But Indians are very innovative, so you’ll find that every part of the country–and practically every household–has their own version; sometimes adding tomatoes, peas, curry leaves, or even a few squeezes of lime juice.

This is my basic version, but feel free to make the recipe your own.  Add what you have on hand.  Do you have some forgotten carrots in the back of your fridge?  Are they sprouting little roots?  Peel them, and toss them in!  Personally, I think crushed peanuts would be a pleasant addition.  Anything goes!…well, almost.

Toss in some slit chilies!

Aloo Gobi ( Spiced Potato and Cauliflower)

Serves 4

This recipe will yield an incredibly delicious, but rather dry dish.  If you would like to make this dish more like a curry, add a little water and some chopped tomato (about 1 roma tomato would be just fine).  Aloo Gobi is delicious served with naan or rotis, and makes an excellent side dish!

Ingredients:
  • 1 small head of cauliflower (or 1/2 regular-sized)- cut into small pieces
  • 2 medium sized potatoes- peeled and diced
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 2 jalapenos- seeded and diced (leave the seeds in for extra heat)
  • thai or serano chilies- leave whole, but slice 2 or 3 slits in the chili (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp. garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • salt- to taste
  • black pepper- to taste
  • 1/4 corriander (cilantro)- chopped, extra to garnish
Directions:
  • Prepare all vegetables and keep them near.  Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds.
  • Once the seeds begin to pop and crackle, add the cauliflower, potatoes, chilies, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin and garam masala.  Stir everything to combine.
  • Continue to stir/fry for about 10-15 minutes, until the cauliflower and potatoes are cooked to your liking.
  • Once the vegetables are properly cooked, season with salt and pepper and add the chopped corriander.
  • Serve, garnished with additional chopped corriander.

Indian spiced potatoes and cauliflower: Aloo Gobi

Tonight, because Piyush wanted something more than just the aloo gobi, I served it with some vegetarian momos.  Momos are incredible, and if you haven’t tried them, you must!  You can learn more about them, and find my recipe HERE.

Aloo Gobi with Vegetarian Momos

And now, because I’ve been talking about vegetables, I thought I’d share a few shots of stuff from my garden.  This heat-wave we’re currently experiencing is causing my plants to struggle a little, but overall they’re doing pretty good.

…and I have to admit, no vegetable tastes better than one you’ve grown yourself.  I feel so excited when I pull something out of the dirt!  And so proud!  🙂

This shallot became an awesome raspberry vinaigrette! I’ll share the recipe soon!

Heirloom Amish Paste Tomatoes. This plant was almost dead, but it’s been coaxed back to life!

Basil! I have a giant basil plant as the centerpiece on my outdoor table. It’s thriving, and smells so good!

And because it really is amazing….

It deserves a close-up! 🙂

Mushroom Puff Pastry Tarts

Sometimes I feel lazy.  Yup.  I said it.  Lazy.

I don’t feel like cooking much; but I don’t feel like going out, either.  I just want to sit at home with a giant glass of wine, enjoy life, and eat mushroom puff pastry tarts.  What?  That’s weird?  hmmph.

Puff pastry is one of my favorite things.  I don’t really make it myself though–remember, I’m lazy–and puff pastry is a lot of work.  Instead, I buy it from the freezer section at the supermarket.

This particular recipe is quite delicious and has many different layers of flavor.  I actually got the idea for this recipe last week when I made Ina Garten’s Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts (recipe HERE).

Tomato and Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tart (Ina Garten’s Recipe)–spiced up with a few Indian flavors!

These tarts were amazing, and the idea for the crust–or tart shell–was quite genius!  I couldn’t wait to try my own version as soon as possible!

My Mushroom Puff Pastry Tart combines caramelized onions and fennel with tender mushrooms, goat cheese, and a creamy, flavorful sauce.  They’re divine!  …Especially paired with a fabulous glass of wine!

The idea to use mushrooms and a cream sauce as a topping stemmed from a fabulous olive oil I received in the mail last week: Devo Olive Oil Company’s Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive Oil.

I was super excited to try this oil!  Devo makes some pretty cool balsamic vinegar and olive oils.

Dark Chocolate Balsamic, Coconut White Balsamic and my new Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive Oil

Last year I was in Branson visiting relatives, and my cousin Nikki and I did a lot of wine tasting.  We also ventured to the Landing (Nikki is the manager at Bath and Body Works @ the Landing–if you’re in Branson, stop in and tell her hello!) and into Devo’s shop.

It was so neat!  They had tons of vinegar and oils to sample.  I probably drank 1200 calories of just olive oil!  No lie.  They were all so good.  It was hard to choose, but Piyush and I came home with a Blackberry-Ginger Balsamic (my favorite!), Dark Chocolate Balsamic and Coconut White Balsamic.

I can’t wait to visit Branson again…and Devo will definitely be on my list of places to stop.  I’m such a food-nerd.

Anyway…the Wild Mushroom and Sage oil was really nice.  It lent a good flavor to my aromatics, and wasn’t too overpowering (sage can sometimes be a little overwhelming, in my opinion).

To make the tarts, I cut circles out of puff pastry–using plates as stencils.

I then traced a smaller circle inside the cut-out and poked holes in it with a fork, and tossed them in the fridge until I was ready for them.

Puff pastry involves a lot of butter, and you’ll want to keep that butter as chilled as possible.  If it warms up and melts into the dough, you won’t have that gorgeous, flaky and puffy crust.

I caramelized some sliced onions and fennel using the wild mushroom and sage olive oil.

Caramelized Onions and Fennel

Cooked up some mushrooms and shallots, also in the wild mushroom and sage olive oil.

Shallots– similar to an onion, but much more mild.

And I whisked together a creamy mushroom-flavored sauce.

Once all the layers to my tart were ready, I began to put everything together.  This recipe seems like a lot, I know…but I promise it’s not.  It’s a perfect meal for a lazy night at home.

I removed the puff pastry from the refrigerator and topped each circle with a little crumbled goat cheese.

then, tossed on the onion/fennel mixture.

And finally, topped with the mushrooms.

I baked the tarts in a oven heated to 425 degrees F for about 10 minutes, and when they were done they looked like this:

all puffed up!

I spooned some mushroom-cream sauce over the tarts and garnished with a little extra crumbled goat cheese and chopped parsley.

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These were perfect for a nice, weekend lunch; but would also make amazing appetizers!  Use a smaller stencil, and you could get about 16 from one sheet of puff pastry!

Yum!

On another note, want to see some of my garden’s progress?  Of course you do! (haha…)

My treasured lavender plant. This is definitely my “baby” of the garden.

marigold! Reminds me of India….

peony–after a light rain

This is the same rose that budded in December—in Minnesota! It’s actually thriving now, surprisingly!

garlic, onions, shallots and some potatoes—growing good!

Yes, I grow awesome dandelions!!! lol

Pan Fried Chicken Breast with Rustic Herb Tomato Sauce

Pan Fried Chicken Breast with Rustic Tomato Sauce

I’ve been super busy the past few days.  I’m planning a baby-shower for my friend–Summer–for this Saturday, so I’ve been menu planning, shopping and crafting.

I’ve also been occupied with my little gardens–which are finally almost completed!  It was super-sunny outside, but I tried to click a few photos…

2 of my heirloom tomato plants–I’m growing 7 varieties this year

I decided to plant my tomatoes and peppers in 5 gallon buckets this year.  I figured they’d be easy to move around if any of my plants start to get sick.  Last year, one of my plants got some sort of fungus–and within days, all of my plants had fungus!  Yuck!

onions (2 varieties), shallots, garlic and a few potatoes

peppers

After all that work (including tons of mulching and weeding perennial beds)…I cracked open a cold one.  —I deserved it! 🙂

We keep this on hand for beer-can chicken, but I got into the stash! I could only drink 1/2 of it though…that is one big can!

I wanted to get back out to the gardens today and finish weeding and weed whacking…but that didn’t happen.  Instead I cooked and baked nearly all day–trying to do what I can before Saturday.  Before I knew it, it was 6pm–and I hadn’t even started dinner!

Earlier in the day I had thrown 2 chicken breasts in a giant zip-lock bag along with some olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon, garlic, salt and pepper.   I had no idea what I was going to make with them, but I wanted it to have some flavor.

When I was finally ready to begin making dinner, I opened the fridge to check out my produce.  I had a container of grape tomatoes (Aldi’s had them on sale for 79 cents…Score!), mushrooms, and lots of fresh parsley.

I found some cous cous in my pantry…and dinner began to take shape.

20 minutes later, and it was done!

I pan-fried the chicken in a little goats butter, marjoram, parsley and garlic.  Once the chicken had a beautiful brown sear and was cooked all the way through, I removed them from the pan and covered them with aluminum foil.

Covering the chicken with foil and letting it rest for at least 10 minutes is very important.  Chicken breast has a tendency to over-cook and dry out–this keeps that from happening.

While the chicken cooked, I made the cous cous.  It took about 5 minutes.  Literally.  I tossed about 2 cups of fresh, homemade chicken broth (I told you I was busy today!)  into a medium sized saucepan.  I didn’t add any butter or oil because my broth hadn’t been strained yet, and was fatty enough.

I tossed in a handful of chopped parsley, 2 tsp. dried tarragon, 1 bay leaf, about a half cup of chopped mushrooms, a pinch of saffron, salt and pepper.  I let this mixture come to a boil, then added 1 cup. whole wheat cous cous.  I covered the pan and let the cous cous soak up all of the fragrant broth.

Then I got started on the tomato sauce.  It was really simple, actually, and it came together really quick.

I tossed the grape tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic (smashed and minced), and a handful of chopped parsley in the same pan that I had previously cooked the chicken.  I turned the heat to high and stirred until the tomatoes started to blister and burst–forming a sauce.  To keep things from sticking, I added 1/2 c. chicken broth and 1 tsp of flour.

I thought the tomato sauce was a little tangy, so I added 1/2 tsp of sugar.  Perfect!

A fantastic dinner doesn’t have to take tons of time.  In fact, I think the easiest meals are often the best!

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On another note, look what’s coming next!

Goat Cheese Swirled Brownies!!!  and they’re pink! …Summer is having a baby girl!!!  🙂

Spring has Sprung! Garden Progress and a New Wreath

This Winter/Spring has been the weirdest.  I mean, really, we used our snow blower only twice this year- and even then it wasn’t entirely necessary.  With unusually warm temperatures in Minnesota, my perennial gardens were blooming…with weeds!  In early March!

The dandelions have begun to take over!   Last year when everything in the backyard was weeded properly, I mulched everything really well.  Before mulching, I didn’t lay down any sort of weed barrier.  Big mistake.  I battled the tenacious (and quite vicious, if you ask me!) Canadian Thistle all summer long.  I felt like I was fighting this losing battle, and gardening just wasn’t fun anymore.  I had to be outside every single day (sometimes two or three times a day) attacking this stupid weed.  I tried everything (nearly), and even asked the local garden center what to do.  Their recommendation:  Total Vegetation Killer.   Yikes!  I didn’t want to go that route, so this year I decided to rake up all the mulch I laid down last year and put down some landscaping fabric.  It was a lot of work, but my super awesome friend, Megan, came over to help:

Megan helping lay the fabric

We managed to finish two of the biggest areas—in a little over 2 hours!  We were rockin’ it!  It was actually kind of fun, and I hope it really does keep the weeds from taking over this year.

When we purchased our house, nearly two years ago, both the front yard and the backyard looked like hell.  I mean, it really looked like a wild jungle.  A single, 80 year old lady owned our place and I think all the gardens became too much for her to handle.  Heck!  I’m not even 30 and they were too much for me to handle!!!

Here’s a few photos of the backyard from last year—after everything was pretty much cleaned up.

This looks small, I know. It's not though. It is probably at least 6' wide. The raised bed that's in there is a 4'x4' if that gives any idea to the actual size of this garden.

This was the worst. I'm not real sure why they decided to build the fence like they did and leave that portion of the yard unfenced, but it is a HUGE area...and the weeds love it there. I'm thinking of planting a pine tree in that empty space (which is bigger than it looks).

This area still looks a little wild. I'm going to get rid of all that green stuff in the front part. It's invasive and I hate it. I don't know what it is...

I've tackled this area already this spring....fabric laid down, just need to mulch. And possibly divide that hydrangea?

I laid fabric on the backside of this garden last year...and the thistles were no longer a problem. I'm hoping that's true for everything else this year.

I was excited that my new home had all these beautiful flowers and plants, and I had all these big ideas about how pretty it was going to look when I was done with everything.  I knew nothing about gardening, couldn’t tell the difference between some of the flowers and the weeds, and very quickly became discouraged.  I didn’t know where to start and the further I got into the project, the bigger the project seemed.  We had a landscaper come out and tell me what things were (and they did that for free!), then we decided to hire him to clean everything up in the backyard so that I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.  We were so happy with his work that we hired him again this year to do our front yard (which still looks like a jungle!).  Now I just have to keep up with everything…

Do any of you have giant perennial gardens?  How do you keep them (semi)weed-free?  How about veggie gardens?  Our gardens in the front yard are so full of stuff that laying landscape fabric down is not really an option….and it kind of makes me crazy thinking about how I’m going to keep up with it all.

I’m excited though…hopefully my veggie garden will do good this year and I can make salads, like this:

with things I grew myself.

I was so happy last year when my first tomato grew!  Unfortunately my garden struggled…but I got a few things out of it.

On a totally different topic, with the arrival of spring, comes a new wreath for the door!

I bought the wreath, itself, at a garage sale last year.  For a dollar, I believe.  It’s a brown, straw form.  Although I bought this pre-made, it looks easy enough to make on your own.  Basically all that grass looking stuff is just hot-glued into/onto the form.  I then added the sprig of purple beads and the butterflies.  I thought it needed a little somethin’ extra.

Before I added the embellishments to it, the wreath had been sitting on my counter…taking up space.  My cat, Penny, decided she liked it:

Penny, nesting.

She thinks she owns everything…