May 30, 2012

Summertime Tuna and Fusilli Salad



It's salad season again, and I'm so glad!  There's just something about a nice, cool pasta salad in the summer that I adore.  I love that I don't have to turn on the oven, and that it can be made well ahead of time and sit in the fridge until dinner time.  When I make a pasta salad I get that same feeling of comfort that I get from preparing a meal in the crock pot.  It's so satisfying knowing that dinner is waiting, ready whenever we are.

We eat pasta salad in some form almost every day in the summertime.  The kids will spread a blanket under a tree in the backyard for a simple picnic of leftover salad.  And this is the perfect make-ahead meal for a road trip.  It travels well, and if you don't add meat it can be left at room temperature for several hours.  Perhaps you remember this salad from our road trip over spring break.  Well here's another to add to the recipe box.



I tossed tuna with mini Fusilli and made a simple honey-mustard vinaigrette, similar to that which I use on my potato salad.  It complemented the tuna perfectly, in the same way a honey-mustard glaze complements salmon.  (Now that I think about it, using salmon in place of the tuna would be wonderful as well.  If you give it a try, please let me know how it works.)

As for the herbs, I add whatever is ready to be picked in the garden.  This time I used a handful of basil and parsley from my herb box, and several chive sprigs from this gigantic plant that has taken over the corner of the vegetable garden.

My kids devoured this salad.  C had three helpings!  Pretty amazing if you know my boy.



Tuna and Fusilli Salad

Salad

10 oz mini Fusilli (about 2/3 box) (rice pasta, whole wheat, or semolina)
1 cup frozen or fresh garden peas
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cans tuna
1/4 cup black olives, sliced
2 Tbsp capers, drained
a handful of fresh basil, parsley, and chives, chopped

Vinaigrette

1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp honey
a large pinch of salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and peas, and cook for 7 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.

Meanwhile whisk all the Vinaigrette ingredients together in a large serving bowl.  Add the cooked pasta and peas, the tomatoes, tuna, olives, capers, and chopped herbs.   Toss well and taste for seasoning.


Shared with: Foodie Friday at Simple Living, Summer Salad Sundays, Real Food Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Full Plate Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Mangia Mondays

May 27, 2012

Nut-Free Chocolate Anise Biscotti



Last week my son's kindergarten class concluded the school year with an International Festival to showcase all they'd learned in geography.  Doting parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all enjoyed the charming show.  C worked so hard on his lines and grinned from ear to ear at showtime.  All the parents were asked to bring an International dish for a feast after the program.

This is very scary when you have kids with food allergies.  And while I didn't think there would be any shellfish hiding out in the food, I wasn't so sure about those sneaky nuts, and E was going to be eating there with her brother.

In the past, when we've been invited to potlucks, I typically bring one main dish and one dessert.  That way, E will have a nearly complete meal that is entirely safe, and I can then supplement her meal with whatever else is certain to be safe (fresh fruit and veggies, chips, etc.)  Last week, however, I was so short on time that I was only able to make one dish to take to this International Feast.

I decided on dessert.  Nuts tend to hide very easily in desserts, ground into flour or baked into cookies, and this scares me most of all.  Of course, I had to represent my first love, Italia, so I knew I was going to bring Biscotti.  I used to bake biscotti all the time, pre-kids.  Loaded with hazelnuts and almonds, coated in Nutella - oh how I miss them.  I haven't made them in a long time, however, because they just aren't the same without the nuts. 

I came across this nut-free recipe in Giada de Laurentiis' book, Giada's Family Dinners, and decided to give it a try.  Oh yum!  The anise gave the cookies an almost almond flavour, without any nuts, which completely satisfied my craving for nutty biscotti.  I made just a few changes to the original recipe.  I cut the amount of chocolate chips in half, because, honestly, I want to taste the cookie behind the chocolate.  I ground the anise seeds by hand, being careful to leave some whole while others were completely pulverized.  I formed the dough into two smaller loaves instead of one giant one, and the cookies were so much more manageable (and the perfect size for little hands).

They were a huge hit, and the kids devoured them enthusiastically.  I hope you enjoy them just as much!



Chocolate Anise Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (from a dedicated nut-free factory)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 tsp anise seed
2 eggs


Preheat your oven to 350 F (180 C).  Line one large baking sheet (or two smaller ones) with parchment paper.  Grind the anise seed in a mortar and pestle until it is your desired consistency.  I kept some seeds whole while grinding the rest very finely. 

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and chocolate chips together and set aside.  Beat the sugar, butter, and ground anise seed in a large bowl.  Beat in the eggs and then the flour mixture.  Beat until just combined.

Divide the dough in half.  Lightly flour your hands and form two logs that are about 8 inches long by 2 inches wide on the baking sheet(s).   Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the logs are light golden brown.

Cool on the pan for at least 30 minutes, then transfer the logs to a cutting board.  Cut the logs on the diagonal into slices that are about 1/2 inch thick.  Place the slices back on the parchment lined baking sheet (you may need to use two baking sheets, or do this in batches).  Bake until the slices just start to turn golden, about 15 minutes longer.  Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Shared with: Hearth and Soul, Family Time Tuesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Sweet Tooth Friday, Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Foodie Friday at Simple Living,

May 18, 2012

A Morning on the Farm and Blueberry Lavender Muffins




My hard drive crashed last Saturday, and it took with it, into the Great Digital Abyss, all my photos for my upcoming posts.  Had I backed up my files?  Who needs to do that, right?  So bear with me while I re-cook and re-photograph everything once again.  On the plus side, this gives me a chance to retest all the recipes.

On Saturday I also spent the morning at the farm just down the road from my house.  My mother and I attend a class there on Raising Backyard Chickens - a wonderful way to spend Mother's Day weekend, if you ask me!  Herbert, our teacher (who also builds some pretty cool chicken coops), was so well informed and laid back.  I learned so much about chickens that I almost feel confident about raising my own sometime in the future.  Almost.



I truly love this farm!  The architecture of the ancient, stucco farmhouse.  The towering pines that line the road.  The lush, green rows of vegetables planted row after row that stretch the length of the property.  The little, red mobile chicken coop that is constantly moving; it becomes a game for my kids to find the chickens as we drive past on the way to school.  And the two fluffy white dogs, Lewis and Clark, who live with the chickens and guard them day and night from predators seen or not.  They faithfully rise and greet us as we approach the hens' little red house now hidden from the road, behind the farmhouse and down a little hill.  Everything about this place makes me feel like I've stepped back in time to rural Tuscany. I take a deep breath of the cool, fresh air and don't want to leave.





We spend a lot of time with the chickens.  Little ones, only a month old, run surprisingly fast on stick-like legs to the safety of their barn when we get too near.  I marvel that such a large building is used to house these tiny ones.  But they are happy.  They have space to run, fresh air to breath, sunshine to bask in, and plenty of bugs to hunt.





Then we visit the older, laying hens.  We laugh as one finds a worm in the wet soil and is promptly chased around and around the yard by all the other hens, eager for a bite.  Through a mud puddle and under a pyramid of pallets she runs.  She splashes through a swimming pool, and then tears through a group of geese (and one duck who thinks she's a goose) who scatter and squawk their protest.  When the chase becomes dull, she finally enjoys her worm in peace.  Such a stark contrast from those images we're not supposed to see of factory-farmed hens crowded so close together in sad, dark warehouses, unable to move and never to see sunlight.  No, these are happy, healthy chickens, and you can tell.






Inside the coop, the wall is lined with nesting boxes. In nearly every one there sits an egg, if not two.  Blue, brown, and white eggs nestle together in the soft, well worn straw.  Still so warm, they soothe our frozen hands when we reach in to gather them.  We don't want to put them down.  As we stand there, chickens come and go.  Singing celebrations whenever an egg is laid; the excitement quickly spreads to the hens outside, then the cocky rooster joins in with his happy song.  This is a very noisy place.

I came home more excited than ever about the meat, eggs, and produce I'll purchase this summer from Venetucci Farm.  I can't wait to share it all with you.



The next morning was Mother's Day, so I decided to bake a batch Blueberry Muffins (you know how much I like muffins, right?), and take the rest of the day off.   I was sorting through my spices, looking for the cinnamon which I normally add to my Favourite Blueberry Muffins, when I saw the lavender. The little purple flowers caught the light in such a way as to say, Add me. Add me instead.  I stood there vacillating. Should I go traditional; tried and true? Or should I branch out; add the lavender and see what happens? 


Actually the decision wasn't that hard, as I love lavender in just about anything, and the results were wonderful.   My family kept asking What's that flavor? Lemon? Orange? Cardamom? The muffins were gone by the next morning.





Blueberry Lavender Muffins

3 Tbsp soft butter
1/4 cup fine sugar
1/4 cup coarse Turbinado sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)
2 cups white whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur)
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp lavender
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup organic blueberries ( I use frozen)

Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).  Line a 12 cup muffin tin with liners and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

Cream the butter and sugars with a wooden spoon.  Add the flour, salt, baking powder, eggs, and milk.  Mix well.  Slightly crush the lavender flowers and fold them in along with the vanilla.

Fill your pan and sprinkle a little more Turbinado Sugar on the top of each muffin.  Bake for 25 - 28 minutes, until nicely brown on top.

Shared with: Sweet Tooth Friday, Monday Mania, Melt in your Mouth Monday, Hearth and Soul, Full Plate Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Foodie Friday, Real Food Wednesday, Family Fresh Meals

May 10, 2012

And Then it Rained



In Colorado the rain is precious.  Something to be treasured.  A gift from Heaven meant to be enjoyed and savoured for as long as it lasts.  The drought has persisted here for years now, and I find myself longing for that gentle pitter-patter against my window panes - a distant and fading childhood memory - and the soft, velvet light of the sun filtering through layers upon layers of dense, silver clouds.



This Spring has been unusually hot and dry.   The dirt from the pasture across the road blows in billows and orange waves toward my house in a violent assault on my flowers and trees, on our eyes and lungs.  The distant smoke of far-off wildfires fires creates an amber haze and haunts me with feelings of nervous agitation.  Sudden gusts of hot wind anger the wind chimes outside my kitchen window.  Even the weeds are ashy and wilted as they struggle for life in the dense clay soil.

Last night I noticed a subtle change in tune of the chimes.  A cool, moist wind was blowing from the West and she brought with her the first tiny raindrops of the season, with the promise of more to come.  Finally I was lulled to sleep by that gentle, rhythmic tapping on my bedroom window.



The rain lingered throughout the night, and we all awoke much later than usual, when the first rays of sun normally stream brightly through the Eastern windows.  The world was grey; the earth sodden; the sad, ashy weeds a vibrant, almost fluorescent, shade of emerald.



The gentle rain continued all morning, and as I drove C home from school I noticed that, for the first time in months, I could no longer see the the rocky bed of the river which flows near our house.  As I crossed over the narrow bridge, I felt compelled to pull off the road for an impromptu nature walk.



Though C was still in his school uniform, I couldn't deny him the joy of splashing in the puddles as we walked along the river bank.  Boys will be boys, and clothes will wash.  The air was sweet with the smell of moss, damp earth, and honeysuckle.



As I crept with my camera down the steep, rocky bank for a closer shot of the river, I startled a stately Blue Heron who was resting in a quiet pool below.  He lifted himself on majestic wings and rattled the quiet leaves above as he soared to a safer spot on the other side of the river.



Farther down we came to a place where the river narrows and tumbles violently down a fall of massive boulders.  The ground trembled with the force of the water and we were in awe of the immense power this normally quiet river unleashed.  The sound of it pounded in our ears and we had to yell to hear each other.



As we headed back I felt overwhelmingly blessed to live amid such natural beauty.  There's no where more serene than Colorado after a Spring rainstorm.  Though I'm forever nagged by an unquenchable wanderlust, I don't think I'll ever leave here again.  At least not for good.



We came home feeling cold but fully alive and exhilarated.  A feeling that makes your fingers tingle and your chest swell.  I set a pot of warm Split Pea and Chicken Soup on the stove to simmer while the rain began to fall once again, and the steal-grey sky turned navy and finally black.



Smokey Split Pea and Chicken Soup

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 onion, chopped
1 lg organic carrot, diced
1 rib organic celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
6 cups organic chicken broth or water (or a combination of the two)
1 3/4 cups dry split peas, rinsed and sorted, divided
1 organic chicken breast
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in the olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper for 10 minutes, until soft.  Add the spices and bay leaf and cook a minute longer to toast the spices.  Add the chicken stock and 1 cup of split peas.  Cover and simmer 25 minutes.

Add the remaining 3/4 cup of split peas and simmer 10 more minutes.  (I add the peas in two batches so that some will remain slightly firm while the others fall apart in the soup)

Add the whole chicken breast to poach in the soup for 15 minutes, or until cooked through.  Remove the cooked chicken to a plate until cool enough to handle.  Simmer the soup for 15 - 20 minutes longer, until the split peas are soft. 

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it with two forks.  Add it back to the soup along with the honey.  Taste for seasonings and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Serve with homemade croutons and chopped flat leaf parsley or cilantro.

Homemade Croutons

3 - 4 slices of whole grain bread (I use sprouted bread)
olive oil
salt, pepper, and Italian herbs

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400 F (200 C).  Cut the bread into cubes and spread on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a pinch or two of Italian herbs.  Toss to coat.  Bake for 8 - 10 minutes until crisp and toasted.



Shared with: Full Plate Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Foodie Friday, Sunday Night Soup Night, Real Food Wednesday, Monday Mania, Melt in your Mouth Monday, Hearth and Soul, Simple Lives Thursday