I'm probably part of a 1% minority when I say this, but summer has always been my least favorite season.
I blame growing up in southwest Florida where summer meant hurricane season. Which meant flooding. Which meant 100% humidity. Which meant swarms of mosquitoes. Which meant a general sense of suffering. Never mind the crispy brown grass courtesy of the 100 degree heat that didn't end until Halloween. (Sweating through your princess costume? Not so ladylike.)
No, I never did enjoy those midyear months. Despite my birthday being in May, which was just around the end of the school year and exactly when the weather was perfect for beaches and boating, I've always been more of an autumn person (though, let's face it, there's no true autumn in Florida. Just two weeks of 70 degree weather before Christmas).
But all that being said, this summer has been different. We moved to the Catskills on the first day of May when the mountainside was dotted with sprouting trees and wildflowers were just starting to bloom. Now that we're into the second week of June, we have fields of brilliant green, lily padded ponds, dreamy pink sunsets and constant cool breezes.
Hubby and I have taken advantage of the gorgeous weather by exploring the nearby Mountain Top Arboretum (pictured), dining al fresco at the local shake shack and taking afternoon walks through our neighborhood where we've spotted wild turkeys, beavers and chipmunks nearly every day.
Another thing I've learned to appreciate about summer is the gardening. Last month, I planted my very first garden - basil, chives, lavender, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers and jalapeno peppers. I've been watering and tending to my potted seedlings faithfully and am just starting to see the fruits (haha) of my labor. The vegetables are beginning to bud and the herbs are high enough to harvest.
I made risotto the other night and decided to garnish it with some of my chives. It was a very cool feeling of accomplishment when I took out the kitchen shears, cut a handful of Something I Grew, then sprinkled it over Something I Cooked.
As I ate my risotto with some chicken thighs hot off the barbecue, I was finally able to accept and appreciate summer for what is it - a respite from the harshness of winter, where afternoons are long and lazy, woodland animals say hello and the earth finally comes to life.
Creamy Parmesan Risotto
I usually associate a piping hot bowl of risotto with the cozy
comforts of a winter's day, but the use of white wine and fresh herbs
made this recipe feel summery to me. We had it for dinner on a rainy
evening with songbirds and frogs serenading us just outside our window.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup good white wine (something dry without too many fruity tones is best)
4 to 5 cups chicken stock or broth, simmering
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon lemon zest, freshly grated
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
salt & freshly ground black pepper
(Have your chicken stock is simmering in a pot before you begin cooking.)
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the rice and cook until fully coated in the oil and they click like glass beads when stirred, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the wine and simmer until fully absorbed by the rice, about 5 minutes.
Add 1 ladle of simmering chicken stock (about 3/4 cup) and, stirring constantly, cook until almost fully absorbed. Add another ladle and repeat the process until almost fully absorbed. Continue this pattern, adding the stock ladle by ladle and allowing the rice to absorb the liquid, and stirring constantly (this is important!) until the rice is suspended in a liquid that has the consistency of heavy cream. The rice should be cooked al dente, tender but firm (not crunchy or mushy). This will take about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and fold in the butter, mascarpone 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Allow to set for a moment before spooning into bowls and sprinkling with chives, more Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
I've started, deleted and restarted this post about a dozen times. I haven't written anything in the past month because, contrived as it sounds, life got in the way. Every time I sat down at the computer to type up a recipe, it suddenly seemed easier to make a cup of tea and watch Gilmore Girls instead. And so I would close the laptop and let Netflix take me away to Stars Hollow.
Cooking and baking are usually stress relievers for me but I've had such little energy after long work days that the task of preparing even a simple salad seemed overwhelming. I began consuming ridiculous amounts of fast food, quickly becoming 'The Chocolate Glazed Girl' at my local Krispy Kreme. (It's literally across the street from my house. What other choice did I have?)
Naturally, I became sluggish, my sweater dresses became tighter and more ill-fitting by the day and I was disappointed every time I walked by a mirror.
And so a diet was deemed necessary. The first order of business was cutting back my coffee intake which resulted in two days of intense migraines that were only dulled by a combination of Excedrin, 30-minute steam showers and 7 p.m. bedtimes. (And lots of puppy kisses. I can't deny Nurse Maple's excellent bedside manner.)
I forbade myself from eating fast food or anything fried, and restocked the fridge and pantry with healthier choices. (Shout out to Pepperidge Farm, whose Cinnamon Sugar Sweet Crisps got me through some dark times this week.) I'd hate to jinx it but four pounds melted away in one week simply by cutting the coffee and McDonald's out of my routine.
Of course woman cannot survive on rice cakes alone, so I treated myself to an old favorite on Sunday night - Shepherd's Pie.
This is the most decadent thing I've made since starting my diet, if you can consider a meat pie decadent. I used lean ground beef and fat free sour cream for the potatoes - healthier choices than I would've made a few weeks ago.
It wasn't exactly gourmet, but after a week of whole wheat toast, fruit smoothies and spinach salads, this pie tasted like triumph.
This simple meat pie can be altered to
include whatever vegetables or ground meat
you like. Serve with gravy and a bowl of veggie
soup for the ultimate winter comfort food.
deep-dish pie dish
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup onions, chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen kernel corn
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 pounds russet potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream (I use fat free but any kind will do)
1/2 cup milk (I use 2% but any kind will do)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup brown gravy, plus more for serving
9-inch pie crust (Pillsbury refrigerated crusts work wonderfully)
salt & pepper to taste
Season the ground beef and lamb with paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Brown the meat in a skillet and cook through. Use a wooden spoon to break the meat into small, evenly-sized pieces. Drain the grease, then set the meat aside in a covered storage container.
Add olive oil to the same pan and saute the onions over medium heat until translucent. Add the peas, corn and garlic, and cook until fully thawed, about 3 minutes. Set the veggies aside in a covered storage container.
For the mashed potatoes, peel the potatoes and chop them into 1-inch cubes. Add to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook at a low boil until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the water and place the potatoes back into the pot. Add the sour cream, milk and butter, and mash to desired texture. (I use an old-fashioned hand masher, then transfer to my Kitchenaid mixer and whip on high speed until smooth and fluffy.) Add salt and pepper to taste.
Prepare the brown gravy as per the directions on the package. You'll need at least one cup, plus more for serving so two packages may be necessary, depending on the amount each package yields.
To assemble the pie: place the pie crust in the bottom of a deep pie dish. Add the veggies in an even layer. Next, add the beef in an even layer. Pour one cup of gravy over the top of the beef. Next, add the mashed potatoes in large spoonfuls. Gently smooth with a rubber spatula. To form peaks, make a series of quick, shallow judo chops to the mashed potatoes with the rubber spatula. Finish with salt and pepper.
Bake in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes. The tips of the peaks should be browned. Serve with more brown gravy.
I may live in Canada but I'm an American girl through and through.
And that means I love me some Mickey D's.
Big Macs, Filets O' Fish, apple pies, vanilla shakes... and those fries. There are no words that can do those fries justice, only sounds. Sounds like mmmm, scarf, snarffle, yum, burp.
After particularly stressful days at work, I take my McDonald's to-go and enjoy it on the couch in my pjs. I guess I'd be more ashamed if it didn't taste so crazy good. But it does, damnit. It does.
I know it's wrong. It's just a lot of fat and salt with zero nutritional value. So I'm trying to be better and cook more dinners at home. Of course there's a certain comfort in breading and baking chicken breasts fresh from the grocer that I don't get from waiting in line at the drive-thru for McNuggets. It's not only healthier but a lot more filling.
I know I can't swear off Mickey D's forever - I have too many fond memories of Happy Meals from the Englewood Beach McDonald's to do that. But in the end wholesome, quality food trumps a questionable "Secret Sauce."
Sorry Ronald, but my arteries deserve a break today.
Parmesan Panko Chicken
Two all beef patties
on a sesame seed bun.
4 boneless skinless chicken fillets (about 1.5 - 2 pounds)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed in a garlic press
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the mayonnaise and garlic in a small bowl. Set aside.
Combine cheeses, spices, lemon zest and bread crumbs in a bowl, then mix so they're evenly distributed.
Using a rubber spatula, spread the mayonnaise over both sides of the chicken. Place each fillet in the bread crumb mixture and roll so both sides are evenly coated. Place on the baking sheet.
Cook until the outside is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees (15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of your fillets).
Once out of the oven, finish with salt and pepper to taste.
Welcome! I'm a pie-baking, dog-loving, antique-hunting patriot. I'm a fan of rustic home cooking, the Yankees and scenic drives through the mountains.