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?


Braised Brisket with Mushrooms

To say my friend Bonnie’s husband Paul loves meat is an understatement.  His philosophy is that no meal is complete without a lot of meat, so I’m guessing they don’t do “Meatless Mondays” in their house.

I just had lunch with Bonnie, and of course, the conversation eventually turned to food.  We talked about how our Pinterest pages are mostly consumed with recipes, and she had the same problem I now have — making something from Pinterest, loving it, and then not being able to find the recipe.  So, she gave me a great tip on how to better organize all my ‘already made’ recipes.

She mentioned that she liked following my blog (Which I consider a huge compliment.  After all, I thought only my mom read this thing.), but she did remind me that she doesn’t bake much — that’s because both her sister and her friend Anita keep her well supplied with desserts, but she loves to cook and experiment.  And then there’s Paul with his love of meat.  I told her about this brisket recipe, and she requested that I share it soon.  So, this one’s for Bonnie:


Braised Brisket with Mushrooms

Braised Brisket with Mushrooms from Mel’s Kitchen

  • 2-3 pounds brisket roast, fat trimmed to 1/4-inch
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 T. packed brown sugar
  • 3 T. AP flour
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 t. dried thyme
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 t. balsamic vinegar


  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and cut it in half crosswise into two roasts. Season each roast with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat the oil over medium or medium-high heat until rippling and hot. Brown the brisket on both sides, working with one roast at a time, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.  Repeat with the second roast.
  3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan. Add the mushrooms and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms are golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add the onions and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add the flour, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring constantly, until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the broths and bay leaves, scraping up any browned bits. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 6-7 minutes.
  4. Place the brisket back in the pan and place the lid on top.  Bake the roasts in the preheated oven until very tender, 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Remove the dish from the oven and let it cool, covered, for 30 minutes to 1 hour, flipping the roasts and recovering the dish halfway through cooling.
  5. Transfer the roasts to a cutting board and trim any extra fat off, if the roasts are excessively fatty. Strain the sauce from the pan through a fine mesh strainer into a fat separator; reserving the mushrooms. Let the liquid settle and then pour into a microwave-safe bowl, leaving the fat behind. Stir in the vinegar and microwave the sauce for about a minute. If the sauce is too thick, thin with chicken or beef broth. Slice or shred the brisket roasts and place on a serving platter with the reserved mushrooms. Pour the warmed sauce over the meat. Serve immediately.

Ina Garten’s Oven-Roasted Vegetables

  • 2 small fennel bulbs, tops removed
  • 1 lb small potato
  • 13 cup olive oil
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 t. black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 lb French string beans
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, ends removed, cut diagonally into 3-inch pieces
  • 14 cup fresh parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the fennel bulbs into 6 wedges each, cutting through the core to keep the wedges intact. Place on a sheet pan. Cut the potatoes in half length-wise and place them on the pan with the fennel. Drizzle the olive oil on the vegetables, then sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Toss with your hands.
  3. Roast the vegetables for 25 – 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, tossing once while cooking. Toss the string beans and asparagus with the roasted vegetables and roast for another 10 – 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and roast for another minute or two until the cheese melts.

Paula Deen’s Garlic Cheddar Biscuits

  • 1 1/4 cups Bisquick
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 t. garlic powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/8 t. dried parsley flakes


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the biscuit mix and cheese in a small bowl. Add the water and stir just until combined. The dough will be slightly moist. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the biscuits are firm and beginning to brown.
  3. While the biscuits are baking, make the garlic butter. In a small bowl, combine the butter, garlic powder, salt, and parsley flakes. Mix well. As soon as you bring the biscuits from the oven, brush them with the garlic butter using a pastry brush.

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

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

Pickled Beets

When I was a child, I remember my mom eating pickled beets.  I tried them once.  Ewwww.  But turns out that I actually like beets; I just don’t like anything pickled.  Period.

Last year Matt planted a few beets, and we enjoyed them roasted and on salads.  But this year he planted a bunch of beets, and last Saturday he stated, “I want to make pickled beets.”  “But we can’t can on our flat top stove,” I replied.  (That’s an excuse I tend to use often.)  Matt was determined and researched pickling beets.  It seems that you don’t need to do it in a canner.  All you have to do is process them in a hot water bath.  Sigh.  And so we pickled beets last Sunday afternoon.

It’s a time-consuming task, and one that I wasn’t too excited about given that I wouldn’t be enjoying the fruits of my labor.  But I do love that man.  And the things I do for him…..

We used this recipe from

We started by boiling the beets and then letting them cool.

cooked whole beets

Matt did most of the peeling, and I was very thankful for that.

Matt peeling beets

Here they are finished and ready to go into jars.

peeled and sliced beets

I put them in the jars, added the hot brine, and got them ready for their bath.

beets in jars

And after doing them in 2 batches, here they are.

beets finished

I went outside after I was done.  When I came back in, the smell burned my nose.  We had that lovely scent lingering for a few days.  But I always learn a few lessons from a new adventure like this so here are my 3 takeaways.  First, there wasn’t nearly enough brine.  I reserved double the beet water, and it was a good thing.  I had to make a second batch of brine to make sure all the jars had enough.  Second, Matt said they were delicious but a bit al dente for him.  If you like your vegetables on the softer side, I suggest cooking them a bit longer.  Third, they said that it would take 50 minutes.  Ha.  It took us 3 hours.  That doesn’t include the time it took me to clean up the mess.  And what a mess there was.



Roasted Okra

I have a love/hate relationship with our garden.  I hate that it refuses to follow a set schedule.  Getting ready to leave for vacation?  Sorry, here’s two 5 gallon buckets of purple hull peas.  Just get back after being gone for a week?  I’ve got a 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes for you.  Oh, did you just finish making marinara out of those tomatoes?  Now I’ve got this for you…..

purple hulls in bucket

BUT, here’s the part I love about having a garden.  After being gone for a week and having not been to the grocery for two weeks, I can take these ingredients from our garden:

ingredients for caprese chicken dinner

Add chicken from the freezer.  And turn all that into this:

caprese chicken dinner

The big find for this dinner was roasted okra.  I’ve really taken to roasting lots of vegetables — from green beans to Brussels sprouts to turnips.  I love the flavor they develop by being roasted.  Here’s how I made our okra:

  • Washed the okra and cut the tops off
  • Toss them with olive oil, sea salt, and freshly cracked black pepper
  • Placed them on a foil-lined cookie sheet and roasted them at 450 degrees for 15 minutes

Depending on what you are roasting, you can add a variety of dried herbs.  Potatoes are delicious diced, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence.  I love doing root vegetables and adding dried rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil.  A few tips — the time varies depending on what you are roasting.  Also, if you are roasting several different vegetables, be sure to cut them all the same size.  Finally, be careful what you roast together.  Once I added asparagus to root vegetables.  They came out rather charred.


Purple Hull Peas

I first had purple hull peas three summers ago.  Matt planted them in our garden, and thankfully my mom was here when the first batch came in because I had no idea what they were or what to do with them.  She cooked them up like black-eyed peas, and they were quite tasty.  But then the purple hulls really started coming in, and suddenly we were inundated. I tried them dozens of ways and found two recipes that we all loved.

Yesterday, our first batch came in for this season.


As we sat on the kitchen floor, I debated.  Would I try something new or go with one of our favorites?  I decided to go with a favorite — this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.  I think it is the combination of the Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar.  They have such a distinctive, rich flavor.  The recipe actually calls for French lentils.  When the garden season was over last year, I made it exactly as the recipe stated, and I thought it was good but not great.  I really think it is the purple hulls that make it extra tasty!