A Garden of Love….and possibly some fresh mint

Before Matt & I became serious about being parents, we had talked about our hopes and dreams for things we wanted in our first home. Jokingly (but not really a joke) we needed at least 1.5 bathrooms. We wanted room to expand our family, a place we could express our own sense of style and flair. No pool (even though since we now have one we have come around on the idea of swimtime during the summer) and a space to throw summer barbecues whenever we could.

But more than anything else, Matt wanted us to have an herb & vegetable garden that we could use to our advantage. When we needed that little bit of basil or possibly a fresh tomato, what better place than to grab the necessities from our own backyard? Prior to our house-hunting whirlwind we had attempted a bucket garden at our year-round rental. We used big buckets with potting soil and wrapped chicken wire with stakes around it to keep rabbits and squirrels from tampering with our project.

While our attempt at vegetables yielded only one little measly yellow squash plant with fungus on it, we found that the herbs were a lot more abundant! (And you know, no fungus.) Thyme, rosemary, and dill grew like wildfire from just a few seeds, so we found ways to incorporate those herbs into more of our dishes. Chicken dishes, tuna fish, homemade tomato sauce….we found ways to use as much as of it as possible. Eventually we just couldn’t find the time to keep up with pruning and drying out our abundance, so the garden fell to the wayside.

Fast forward to now….where Matt & I finally have the home, space, and enough time to work on such a large project. And so since this idea was Matt’s brain child, he set out to bring this garden to life.

If you had looked at the list of our YouTube searches, you may have chuckled a bit at seeing “How to Build a Keyhole Garden” in between “Little Baby Bum” and “Baby Shark”. We discussed what herbs and vegetables would work best with the way we cook, as well as looking up articles and videos on the best options for growth.

With a goal in mind, Matt set to work on creating on our garden project. First came a handful of Home Depot trips to select the correct lumber, chicken wire, topsoil, and potting soil all while scoping out potential plants. Next, Matt started skillfully building a keyhole garden, making sure that the ground was even before setting down the cardboard for the bed of the garden and loading it with the proper soil mixture.

20190508_213349618_iOS

Starting our garden

And finally came the best (but most important part): selecting what we should grow in our garden. We wanted to have vegetables and herbs that we normally use in our cooking, as well as a few fun ones to try out in new recipes.

Of course the herbal basics (basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and parsley) were automatic shoe-ins for the main part of the garden bed. As a bonus, we added lavender, lemon balm, and sweet mint to round out the lineup. That holy trinity will be beneficial come iced tea/lemonade recipe time. And for that savory factor, lavender is one of the key ingredients in Herbs de Provence.

For vegetables, that became a little trickier but not impossible.

One of the best basics for a garden are tomatoes (even if it is considered a fruit). We decided on Roma tomatoes because they’re smaller than Beefsteak or Jersey, but are considered a good tomato for making homemade sauce. And usually smaller tomatoes are easier to grow, which means if this goes well maybe next year we’ll add cherry tomatoes to the mix.

Next came cucumbers, as my husband is half-Greek and I made pretty good homemade pickles using my great-grandmother’s recipe. There would need to be two types of cucumbers in our garden as the seedless are better for salads and tzatziki while Boston Pickling cucumbers are better for just that: pickling. And so we added those to our list.

With peppers we realized that while red bell are perfect for me as I am minimal on the heat and more on the sweet, Matt could get more into harvesting hot peppers for potential chili and just spicing up a few of our favorite dishes. By accident instead of grabbing four Tabasco pepper plants, we grabbed two Tabasco, one red chili, and one Santa Fe Grande plant. If all goes well, there will be very little need to replenish hot sauce.

For our final plant we had initially talked about spinach as Max has shown an interest in finally eating a green vegetable. (He ate spinach in Francaise sauce, which was a small victory in our house.) But since Matt could not locate a spinach plant anywhere, another great option was to attempt fresh romaine. With a handful of plants, we could pluck ripe leaves from the plant and have a salad without completely uprooting the whole plant. Sounded like a great compromise. Also, spinach is almost always on sale near us so that’s never a problem.

20190517_204257750_iOS

Ta-da….we have a garden!

The lineup was complete and with some configuring (and eventually re-planting of some of our crops), Matt & I worked together in bringing our garden creation to fruition.

We’re waiting with bated breath to make sure that crops start growing so we can harvest our end product and I can’t wait to share what we make when/if we do!

Stay tuned for potential recipe adventures and stories of our gardening experience.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

 

 

A “Creamy Italian” twist on a summer standard

When summer hits, Matt and I are notorious for the cold salads, as you could tell with my last post about potato salad.

But our main summer salad? Macaroni salad.

We never make it the same way twice, always just grabbing for whatever is on hand in the fridge to try and utilize our food in different ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as onion and celery, other times I toss in some pepper with the onion and maybe some artichoke, and sometimes I pull out some of our frozen veggies and toss a little broccoli and peas in.

This week I felt compelled to make an Italian-style salad with pepperoni, genoa salami, red pepper, and fresh mozzarella. Now normally I would add Italian dressing to the mix, but if you’re like me, this salad is always subject to all the ingredients (minus the pasta) dropping to the bottom of the bowl. And the more you mix, the more it goes.

But not this time. I was determined to incorporate Italian flavors from the dressing and create a cohesive dish. And it hit me: Creamy Italian Dressing! When I make a mayo-based macaroni salad the ingredients never fall to the bottom. Instead, the mayo acts as a cohesive and creates the perfect blend ratio of pasta to its edible accoutrements.

And I must say, it was a success! To add a little more zip, you can always whisk in a little bit of the regular Italian dressing. Trust me, the Creamy Italian will still do its thing. More importantly, before you serve, always make sure to add just a little dollop more of the Creamy Italian Dressing. When sitting in the fridge, the pasta has a tendency to sop up a lot of the liquid, so that little dollop rejuvenates the dish a little bit.

As always, enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

 

Jenn’s Creamy Italian Macaroni Salad

1 box rotini pasta, cooked and drained

1/4 – 1/2 cup pepperoni, diced

1/4 – 1/2 cup genoa salami, diced

1/2 container fresh mozzarella, quartered

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup vidalia onion, diced

1/2 cup Creamy Italian Dressing

1/4 cup Italian Dressing

Italian Seasoning

 

Directions:

1) In a large bowl, add pasta, pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, red pepper, and onion. Mix.

2) In a 2-cup measuring cup, add Creamy Italian and Italian dressing. Whisk together until smooth.

3) Add dressing over pasta and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle Italian Seasoning over mixture, just a few taps, and mix.

4) Cover and refrigerate minimum 4 hours to overnight before serving.

Giving potato salad a face-lift

When I think about making potato salad, it tends to make me break out in a sweat. Because while the finished product looks easy enough, just the notion that the potato needs to be perfectly cooked enough where a fork can go through it, but not crumble….is daunting. But Matt had faith in me this week as he played a double on Monday and left a request for potato salad on my plate. And I was not about to let him down in the slightest.

To make potato salad, red potatoes are truly the best one. They’re durable and you can pretty much leave the skin on them when you cut them into bite-sized pieces. Just make sure each potato is washed thoroughly and that any eyes or bad spots are removed. And especially since we needed to move the last of our red potatoes, it was a win-win.

Place your bite-sized pieces into a pot of cold water on high heat and let it come up to a boil. To check if they’re cooked through, try to locate the largest piece and stick a fork in it. If the fork goes through with ease, then they’re done. And if you’re nervous like me, after you check the potato, turn off the heat and let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a minute or two. Trust me, they’re still cooking when you do this.

Since our fridge was a little more barren of the essentials to make potato salad, I learned to get creative. This is quite typical in our home when making a multi-layered type salad. (Seriously, watch me make a garden salad or macaroni salad and you’ll understand.) I kinda think of it like a “hodge podge” dish, so to speak.

Because instead of yellow onions, I used the remainder of green onions that we had from our last shopping trip. Celery was replaced by fennel stalks. And for a little pop of color, some diced red bell pepper.

The only thing I think it’s missing? Hard-boiled egg. I may need to attempt this version sooner rather than later.

If you’re willing to get over your fears, it’s amazing what you can accomplish in the kitchen. Matt believes I don’t give myself enough credit. And with this potato salad recipe, I’m sort of inclined to believe him.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

  

Jenn’s “Hodge Podge” Potato Salad

6-7 medium red potatoes, cubed

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 tablespoon honey dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 tablespoon pepper

2 fennel stalks, diced (you want about a cup)

1/2 diced red bell pepper

1/4 – 1/2 cup green onion, chopped

Paprika, if desired

 

Directions:

1) Place cubed potatoes in 3-quart pan in cold water. Cover and heat to boiling. Allow potatoes to continue cooking in boiling water until larger pieces of potato are soft enough to let a fork go through. Turn off heat and allow to sit in water another 1-2 minutes before draining thoroughly and placing in large bowl.

2) Mix mayonnaise, vinegar, mustards, salt, and pepper in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk until smooth.

3) Add fennel, green onion, and pepper to potato mixture. Add dressing and stir thoroughly to cover. Add sprinkle of paprika and continue mixing. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight before serving.

 

Even chicken can get a little “sloppy”

When it comes to new recipes, I always find simpler is better. When I first started cooking with Matt, he taught me that food doesn’t need to have a million different ingredients in it to be good. But that doesn’t mean it still can’t be absolutely delicious!

Lately, I have been gravitating more towards ground chicken. Why? Because it’s on sale and there is nothing better than a great deal on a delicious meat product, especially chicken! (And because the price of boneless chicken breast makes me want to cry sometimes….how can it be almost $20 for one package of chicken?!?)

But ground chicken is a great alternative! And at first, like the turkey burgers, Matt and I made chicken burgers….which are delicious and require plenty of cook time (because hello, salmonella is just not something we want to deal with.) Yet ground meat in a patty form can get kinda boring if you keep doing the same thing over and over, so I sought a new way to treat the ground chicken and came up with…..sloppy joes!

The recipe I located was easy, minimal ingredients, and the prep time was relatively fast. (I forget where I found it, but rest assured that this recipe will have you feeling less pressure at dinnertime and result in happy bellies.) Now it does contain onion and green pepper,(Matt’s least favorite pepper of all – seriously, for a man who loves the hot peppers, it took a little bit of convincing, not much, to get him into the idea of trying the recipe to the letter); fortunately, this dish was such a hit that Matt even told me the days of chicken burgers are over….he wants this dish again, green peppers and all!

Maybe next time Matt and I will put our homemade barbecue sauce and fresh rolls to the test on this recipe and truly make it all homemade….until then, I suggest trying this one out and adding a side dish of coleslaw! (As you will see by the picture below, I can assure you, my dear reader, this meal lasted less than 10 minutes. It’s that good!)

The best lesson: never be afraid to try other ground meats. Really, beef is great and all, but poultry can be just as delicious and (for those who are super aware of their health) much leaner.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Chicken Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground chicken

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green pepper (small-medium), chopped

3/4 cup barbecue sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Hamburger rolls

Directions:

1) In a medium saute pan on medium-high heat, pour a little oil on the bottom to cover. Once heated, throw in chopped peppers first to soften, stirring frequently.

2) After a few minutes of allowing the peppers to cook, throw in the onion and cook for 2 minutes, allowing time for it to soften.

3) After another few minutes, add ground chicken and stir mixture frequently until chicken is cooked through. (Depending on how thick you want the sauce, if you prefer a thinner sauce mixture do not drain the juices in the pan, as they will help you thin out the sauce.)

4) Turn heat to low, add barbecue sauce and stir until mixture is well coated. Turn off heat and serve on rolls. Should make about 4-6 sandwiches.