Roasted Vegetable Pasta

“I miss having a garden,” I recently said to my father-in-law. “I thought you hated the garden,” he replied. I went on to explain that I have a love/hate relationship with having a garden. I love walking out at about 4:00 in the afternoon to see what is fresh and deciding what I can use for dinner that night. I hate the fact that a garden refuses to follow my schedule. I can’t tell you how many nights — after I’ve gotten up at 4:30 to run so I can volunteer at school until 2:30 and then come home and work while Gray does homework, then make dinner, and while I am trying to clean up, Matt brings in 2 buckets full of purple-hull peas to be shelled, washed, blanched, bagged, and then frozen. That doesn’t fit my schedule at 7:30 at night after a long day. But yet somehow I still miss the first part of the whole garden thing.

Toward the end of every July, Gray and I visit my parents for a week. We grace them with our presence so that they can spoil us with lots of fun, good food, oh and my birthday party. More on that last thing next week.  A bonus for visiting this time of year is that the garden is really coming on. So a few weeks ago, I traveled back to Tennessee from Indiana with a backseat full of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and squash (plus homemade blackberry jelly). Gray quickly demolished the cucumbers, and I slowly worked on the other items, making my grilled cheese with tomatoes and having plenty of BLT’s. I made zucchini bread, grilled squash, and I still had quite a bit of stuff left. Produce from a parent’s garden is like gold — you should never let it go to waste, so Saturday night I put the remaining tomatoes, zucchini, and squash to yummy use.

First, I made homemade marinara sauce using this recipe.

marinara 2016

Next, I chunked up zucchini, squash, and onion; placed them on a cookie sheet; drizzled them with olive oil; seasoned them with sea salt; and roasted them at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.

zucchini squash mom and dads garden

After the vegetables were done, I cooked rigatoni pasta to al dente, then mixed it with about half the sauce, the roasted vegetables, a ball of diced fresh mozzarella, placed all of it in a casserole dish, topped it all with freshly grated parmesan cheese, and then baked it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

roasted veggie pasta


roasted veggie pasta 2

And sadly now the produce from my parent’s garden is gone……. Hey Mom and Dad, didn’t you say you felt like coming to Tennessee this weekend?


Roasted Beet Salad

After last week’s indulgent meal, I thought that this week we should exercise some restraint.  Saturday night’s ‘dog’ meal was rather simple — grilled ribeye steaks, roasted asparagus, and salad.  But a ‘dog’ meal requires at least one new thing, so I kicked the salad up a notch.  I always thought I didn’t like beets.  What I don’t like is anything pickled; I actually do like beets.  I discovered that a few summers ago when Matt planted his mega garden.

picking green beans

I complained that entire summer.  It seemed like every time I turned around, he was bringing in buckets of produce for me to either cook, freeze, or can.  Now, I’d give anything for that mega garden.  We won’t have one again this summer because of both his travel schedule and the fact that he wants to tear down his shop and rebuild it.  I’ll just have to look forward to next summer for a garden.  In the meantime, I will be happy with my potted tomatoes and herbs, but missing that garden made me think about some of the fantastic things I discovered that summer — like roasted beets.  I decided to purchase a few and try out this recipe.

Ina Garten’s Roasted Beet Salad

Here is my modified version:

3 medium-size beets, tops removed and scrubbed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces mixed greens
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and place them on a sheet pan. Roast them for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size, until a small sharp knife inserted in the middle indicates that they are tender. Unwrap each beet and set aside for 10 minutes, until cool enough to handle, and then peel.

Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and set aside. While the beets are still warm, cut them into slices and place them in a large mixing bowl. Pour half the vinaigrette over the beets and toss.

Place the greens in a separate bowl and toss it with enough vinaigrette to moisten. Put the them on a serving platter and then arrange the beets, walnuts, and goat cheese on top. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette, if desired, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Beet Salad

There’s no way I would serve any Saturday night dinner without making a new dessert.  This isn’t exactly new — I make variations of peanut butter brownies all the time.  I’ve also made a chocolate peanut butter frosting using Reese’s spread.  But this time, I took my peanut butter buttercream recipe and added cocoa and finely chopped Reese’s cups and spread it on a batch of brownies.  Then I sprinkled chopped Reese’s cups on top and drizzled the whole thing with a peanut butter drizzle.  Sinful!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ cup heavy cream
12-15 miniature Reese’s cups, finely chopped

In large bowl, cream butter, peanut butter and vanilla extract until smooth. Gradually add in powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Slowly beat in heavy cream. Cream with a mixer at least two minutes until light and fluffy.  Stir in Reese’s cups.  Smear away on whatever makes your heart content — for me it’s brownies.

chocolate peanut butter reese frosting

Sloppy Joe Stuffed Peppers

I walked into the kitchen Sunday afternoon to find this:

3 buckets of beans

The fall crop that Matt planted was coming in.  Yipee.  I was not prepared for this, so it has turned into a three-day affair.  Sunday night Matt and Gray helped shell purple peas.  They are in the refrigerator waiting for tomorrow night’s dinner.  Yesterday we all worked on breaking green beans at various times during the day.  Then around 5:00 I started washing, blanching, and freezing them.  Then I moved on to the 4 dozen jalapeno and banana peppers.

Today is Tuesday, and I still have these:

green and red peppers

I need a quick and easy dinner tonight, so searched for a quick way to make stuffed peppers and found this recipe on Pinterest.  Here’s how I went about making mine in slightly over 30 minutes.

I washed, cored, and halved 5 peppers.  Then I placed them in a 9×13 pan that was sprayed with non-stick spray.  I stuck them in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes to soften them.

While the peppers cooked in the oven, I made a cup of instant brown rice and browned a pound of ground beef with 1/2 a chopped onion.  Then I stirred in a can of Manwich sauce and the cooked rice.

I pulled the peppers from the oven, filled them with the meat mixture and topped them with provolone cheese.  I placed them back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

sloppy joe peppers

Peppers and green beans from our garden.  Beef from his uncle’s cow.  Homemade and homegrown.  It makes my husband happy.

Carnitas Tacos

I mentioned in a past post that “putting on the dog” no longer needs to be a difficult meal, it just needs to be new.  I rarely use my slow cooker, and I don’t really know why.  But this past Saturday I pulled it out, and here’s why:

tree house

Gray and I pestered Matt relentlessly about revamping the old tree house that the previous owners had built.  It worked.  He spent last weekend tearing it down to bare-bones, and he spent this weekend redesigning and rebuilding.  I decided that it might be a nice idea help out given my role in creating this big job.  So instead of spending the afternoon in the kitchen, I loaded up the slow cooker Saturday morning with this recipe for beef carnitas tacos and tried to be helpful.  I’m not exactly sure how helpful I was.

This was one of the easiest dinners I’ve made in a long time.  The meat took care of itself.  I pulled it out of the slow cooker around 6 p.m., shredded it, and put it back in with a little bit of the liquid it produced while cooking.  Then I made this super-quick copycat Chipolte corn salsa, set up a taco bar, and called the boys in.

carnitas tacos 1

I was also pleased that I was able to use three items from our garden — green peppers, jalapeno peppers, and tomatoes.  It was a tasty and fun meal, and it would make a fantastic weeknight dinner.  Matt also said the meat was even better at lunch the next day.

carnitas tacos 2

And those of you that know me will be super-surprised by this.  I even took the easy route on dessert by letting Gray pick out cupcakes from GiGi’s.  I really was serious about trying to be helpful.

GiGis cupcake

Eggplant Parm

Our garden has a mind of its own.  Year after year it produces prolific amounts of green beans and field peas, and after that, well it’s a guessing game.  Matt has been known to plant something two or three times with little success.  This year we had some weak returns on several things but the big flop was eggplant.  We harvested three puny little eggplant.

eggplant on vine

So given that there were only three, I had to make a truly special dish.  Plus it was Saturday night, and that means “puttin’ on the dog”.  I chose Alex Guarnaschelli’s Eggplant Parmigiana recipe, and it was an excellent choice.  Now if you decide to make it, be prepared — it is time-consuming, creates lots of dishes to wash, and leaves a big oil splatter mess — but it is totally worth it.  It was a really hearty dish with big flavor.  I so wish I had taken a picture of it in the pan.  It came out of the oven with this beautiful golden cheesy crust on top.  I was just too excited and ready to eat.  Instead, I have this photo:

eggplant parm

To top off this excellent meal, I pulled out my trusty Swiss Cake Roll recipe from — and success!  After I made it I realized it wasn’t actually that much more work than the other recipe, and it produces a non-split-open cake roll every time.  Lesson learned.

finished swiss roll

swiss roll cut

Bacon Tomato Grilled Cheese

I’m a sandwich girl. I eat some sort of sandwich for lunch almost every day. But not cold sandwiches – I like warm, gooey sandwiches. I try to vary them so I’m not eating the same thing day after day but I will admit that on occasion I get hooked on one particular sandwich and eat it quite regularly. Every summer I seem to get hooked on a tomato-related sandwich. Last summer it was the tomato mozzarella panini. This summer is the summer of the bacon tomato grilled cheese.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 slices good quality sourdough bread
  • Tomato slices (be sure to salt a little)
  • Grated Fontina
  • Grated Gruyere (you decide how much cheese you’d like)
  • 2 – 3 Crispy, thick sliced bacon – crumbled
  • Butter for the outside of the bread

bacon tomato grilled cheese parts

Assemble accordingly and cook until gooey and golden brown.

bacon tomato grilled cheese finished

Wow. This thing is really good. Makes topping my tomato-related sandwich obsession next summer even more difficult.

More Zucchini, More Baking

Gray and I visited my parents this past weekend. My mom, who currently has her right arm wrapped from finger tips to armpit, asked me if I would help her out in the kitchen. Let’s see, cook and bake all day Saturday? If I must.

She had two incredibly large zucchini that she needed to do something with, so I shredded them.

shredded zucchini

Then started offering up options. First, I made two loaves of zucchini bread. My mom uses the recipe below. It’s from a cookbook that she’s had forever – so long in fact that the thing is discolored, stained, and about to fall apart.  But this zucchini bread recipe has stood the test of time.

3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup chopped nuts (my mom likes pecans)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix well. Pour into two greased bread pans and bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes depending on the size of your pans. I added a bag of chocolate chips, and they turned out beautifully.

chocolate chip zucchini bread

But we still had a bunch of shredded zucchini, so I made a second batch of bread and this time I added a bag of white chocolate chips. They also turned out beautifully and were so incredibly moist. I couldn’t wait to try a slice.

Still more zucchini, so I suggested zucchini brownies. I used this recipe from Oh my goodness. These brownies were fantastic – so rich and fudgy.

zucchini brownie

No one would have guessed that they were made with a vegetable. We had them for dessert after dinner. My sister and her family were there, and we managed to demolish over half the pan.

Kaysie eating brownie

When I was done making a mess in her kitchen, she said she wanted me to take a loaf of bread along with some brownies home as a little thank you. OK – if you insist. I wanted that loaf with the white chocolate chips. I was so looking forward to cutting into it when I got home. About 30 minutes into the drive home I realized I had forgotten both. Sigh.  So I checked our garden when we got home.  No zucchini.  Bigger sigh.