Sweet Meets Savory Watermelon Gazpacho

or how to beat the heat and keep your waistline in one little bowl

I was innocently starting my day, heading out the door to work and stopping by my vegetable garden for some cherry tomatoes, when I walked outside and summer pretty much just punched me in the face.  I was shocked (a simple "Good Morning" would have sufficed) and I was not about to take this assault laying down, though going back to bed definitely crossed my mind at the time. There had to be a way to beat this humidity at its own game, as I pushed on to my car my mind began turning. 

Now just about the time when I was stopping for a frozen lemonade, I found myself daydreaming of cold soups.  Light, refreshing, rejuvenating, just about everything this weather was not.  It may have been the lemon talking, but once back on the road I decided that watermelon gazpacho would be the perfect weapon to have in my arsenal during the epic battle I was going to be facing against these hot and humid days.  A two fisted punch of crisp, sweet fruit and the savory undertones of fresh veggies is nothing to scoff at and, if that wasn't enough, it's easy to make extra reserves to have on hand just in case of an ambush.  As you look over the ingredient list please - don't let the garlic scare you off - you'll appreciate its contribution to the cause when you are done.  Now just take a slow deep breath, clear your mind of any preset prejudices against the upcoming union, and let's prepare for battle.  (You can close your eyes if it gets too scary, but it's easier to read with them open, just hang in there - your bravery will be rewarded.)

The tools you'll need to build your arsenal:
1 cup orange juice
2 - 3 cups diced watermelon, seeds removed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 orange bell pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
2 small sweet banana peppers
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 baby cucumbers
2 tbsp dried minced onion
3 tbsp lime juice
1/8 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1 tsp dried basil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1. Before you do anything else, finely dice all the vegetables leaving the cucumbers a bit bigger than the others.  This way you can ditch the cutting board and have plenty of room to set up the assembly line.

2. Add the orange juice, olive oil, and 1 cup of the watermelon to the blender and mix until smooth.  Pour out the results into a large bowl.

3. Stir in the lime juice, dried onion, garlic powder, and basil to complete the base.  Whisking it to ensure that it is combined is not a terrible idea at this point.  I recommend adding the vegetables one at a time so that they have a chance to incorporate more fully while the others are waiting their turn. 

4. Now its time for the cilantro, mix well so that it spreads evenly throughout the soup.  Season with the salt and pepper to taste before going any further as the next step is a bit more delicate.

5. Add any remaining watermelon and fold into the mixture so as not to crush the fruit.  You'll want to adjust the amount to your liking, depending upon your prefered fruit to vegetable ratio.  It then has to refridgerate for at least 3 hours so that the flavors have time to marinate, though I prefer overnight to give the watermelon time to soak up some of those savory flavors.  Serve well chilled.

And there it is - a sweet and savory weapon ready and waiting to fight that aggressive summer heat.  This dish can easily be used as a side to compliment heavier meals or grilled foods, it also fits nicely into a small package for an appetizer when served as "shots" or "food-tinis" along side other types of cold soups.  Personally, I like to make sure I have extra to pack into my lunches or just have on hand for a quick snack.  Remember - relax, refresh, enjoy!


Stuff 'Em If Ya Got 'Em Banana Peppers

or the neglect prevention pepper grill plan

So, this is the result of a hostile takeover by the banana pepper plants in my garden (the green, yellow, and orange peppers never even saw it coming).  I have walked past those poor plants day after day thinking, with only the best of intentions of course, that I'd make Italian Pepper Rings from them once I had time to pull out my canning supplies.  But, as things seem to go more and more often lately, time passed and the peppers just hung there, staring at me each time I went by with their sad little pepper eyes.  Ok I know,  peppers don't have eyes, but the feeling was still there - neglect - and I could only ignore it for so long.

I remembered a post I saw online about someone trying to stuff banana peppers with ground beef so I finally harvested a few from my garden and headed inside where my husband was browning beef for dinner.  I stole about 1/2 cup of browned ground beef and settled down at the cutting board to play.  Much to my delight, this actually turned out very good, even my pepper hesitant husband liked them!  The recipe doesn't make a lot, since I could only wrangle 1/2 cup of beef from my husband last night, but it could easily be doubled for a larger meal plan.  And now, with that said, I bring them here to you.  I hope you enjoy.

Let's see, what did I use....
3 sweet banana peppers
1/2 cup browned ground beef (still warm)
2 tbsp low fat cream cheese
1 tsp dried minced onion
1 tsp house spice blend
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp paprika (Ok, so I was actually out of paprika, but it seemed like it would be delicious in these and was part of the conceptual plan so I kept it in the list and will definitely be trying it next time.  Feel free to leave out if you like.)

1. The first thing you need to do is to prepare the banana peppers.  You could really use any type of banana peppers but I much prefer the sweet ones with this recipe, I think the hint of sweetness is a nice contrast to the savory filling.  You'll want to remove the tops and very carefully, using a parring knife, remove the seed line from inside while maintaining the tube-like shape.  If you break the natural shape of the pepper it won't hold up to the stuffing, so be careful or you'll end up with a bowl of stuffing and plate of chopped peppers (which I'm sure would still be good, just not quite what we're going for here).

2. In a small bowl combine the browned ground beef, spices, dried minced onions, and cream cheese.  Stir together well, there's no need to be gentle it can handle it.  The warmth of the ground beef will help to soften the cream cheese so it becomes a little more willing to join the party.

3. Now you're ready.  Line up your peppers and let's get down to work.  Use a butter knife to scoop up small amounts of the stuffing and press gently into the center of the pepper.  The tip of the knife is dull so it works particularly well for the firm but gentle pressure that's needed to ease that stuffing all the way to the bottom.  It will take a few minutes for each one at first, but trust me the care you take with this part is worth it and it goes faster once you get in the swing of things.  You want to make sure that each one is tightly packed before the next step.

4. I used a grill pan for this but you could just as easily toss them on the grill outside or use a cast iron skillet, just whatever you have laying around that is clean.  Brush the outside with some olive oil and cook the stuffed peppers over medium-high heat until they start to soften just a touch and get those nice grill marks.

You'll want to allow them to set just a couple minutes before diving in so that the stuffing doesn't escape prematurely.  These work great as either a side dish, kind of a fun way to get those veggies in, or as a main dish with rice or potatoes.  Personally I like to cut them into bite sized pieces but the option of serving them whole as a hand held appetizer is very tempting (and may work well with kids too now that I think about it).  Who knows, maybe you'll be able to convert a few pepper-phobic family members of you own.  Regardless of how you serve them, I hope you find them as tasty as I do!


Simply Delightful Tenderloin Roast

or beef as a butter delivery system

Butter and beef?  (you may ask bewildered)  A heart attack on a plate you say?  Nonsense!  There's no need to run in fear!  The roast can't possibly soak up all that butter... I don't think.  Still, maybe don't eat it every day, just in case.  Simply remember - all things in moderation - and such health concerns can be laid to rest peacefully in the back most part of your mind as you prepare to enjoy this richly delicious meal.

Now that we have that out of the way, take a couple of deep breathes and that butter induced panic will pass, if for some reason that twinge of panic just won't leave your mind (and I say mind because that sentiment is most certainly not coming from your stomach) serve it up with a big bowl of steamed broccoli and you'll be just fine.  And another thing - don't let the word "roast" intimidate you, anyone can make this dish, that's part of what makes it so delightful!  You'll be surprised at your mad skills in the kitchen when you're done.  Brace yourself now - we're about to dive in..

Simple may not be a good enough word, here's all you'll need:
2 lb tenderloin roast
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup soy sauce
6-8 small golden potatoes, quartered

1. First you'll want to preheat the oven to 350 degrees, there's no need to ease the roast in, shock treatment will work just fine.  In a deep baking dish, mix together the melted butter and soy sauce until well blended.

2. Next you'll want to add the roast, if there is a thin "tail" at one end just tuck it under so the thickness is consistent throughout (you don't want to waste that beefy goodness to unnecessary cosmetic surgery do you?  I thought not).  The tail side should be up at this point, a little indecent perhaps but it's for the best.  Then add the potatoes, already cubed, to the baking dish so that they can snuggle up to the roast while greedily saturating themselves with buttery flavors of their own.

3. Place the baking dish in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, then carefully flip the roast over so it is tail down and continue to cook for 30-40 minutes.  Kindly come back about halfway through and lovingly baste with that delicious sauce.  You'll want to adjust the cooking time for desired rawness, at this length of time the roast comes out medium well but amazingly moist, and this is coming from a hardcore "medium" steak kind of girl.

4. Once the roast is done let it rest in the sauce for 10 minutes.  Then remove and slice across the grain, so as not to upset the delicate balance with rough textures.

Serve this tender roast drizzled with sauce and accompanied by the potatoes, along with a vegetable or two if you must, and viola!  A four ingredient dinner with all the flavor of its seasoning doused counterparts.  Now all you have to do is enjoy and smile knowingly to yourself, as you let a wave of self-confidence wash over you, while listening to the oooohhh's and aaaaahhhh's coming from around the table.


Slow and Easy Potato Salad

or your friendly neighborhood commitment free carbohydrates..

I have a love affair with carbohydrates.  There, I said it.  But the important thing is to be honest, right?  So, looking at things through my pasta/potato/bread colored glasses (which are far more tantalizing then "rose colored glasses") what could possibly be a better stand-by than a simple potato salad?  This isn't a fancy luncheon salad that sits all pretty on your plate waiting to be accompanied by cucumber sandwiches and tea, it's a great down home dish served best at room temperature plopped on a paper plate next to corn on the cob and grilled meat.  Still, the one thing I must insist on is this: McClure's relish.  If at all possible this local Detroit classic gives the salad a healthy kick in the pants (if you know what I mean).  But, if you are stranded without this delicious condiment a garlic relish, with the pickles preferably shredded not cubed, will suffice.  So let's get down to the details.. 

You'll need:
5-6 Golden Potatoes, depending on the size
1/2 cup low fat or olive oil mayonnaise
3/4 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1-2 tsp McClure's Relish

1. We'll start by getting the potatoes comfortable.  Bring a large stock pot of water to boil and add the potatoes.  Boil for about 15 minutes or until they are tender, not mushy.  It may take more or less time depending on the size (let's not judge now, just plan accordingly). 

2. While the potatoes are cooking, mix together the remaining ingredients until well blended.  This will assure that no bite is left out on the flavor front.

3.  Allow the potatoes cool for a bit once they are out of the water.  Let's not rush things, this is a nice time for you to take a break yourself.  Once you are feeling a bit regenerated and the potatoes are closer to room temperature, dice them into bite sized pieces.  You may want to remove the skins first but I don't bother, the ones that want to come off will so why force them?  You don't need that stress.

4.  Add all the potatoes to a large bowl and fold in the mixture you made at the beginning.  Be careful not to push to hard, this is where that relaxation from your break earlier comes in handy, if you force it the potatoes may mash up a bit.  Season with spices to taste once it is combined and stop.

See that - just four little steps, four, and you even got a break in the middle!  Bonus - it is delicious at room temperature so there is no need to chill, I hate waiting.  While the salad is perfectly satisfying just as it is, you may decide that you want to add some diced up hard boiled eggs for a change of pace but if you do be careful because this will add to the need for cooler temperatures to avoid spoiling, I find this a bit high maintenance for my tastes.  Another idea to freshen it up a bit might be to add some diced chives or other fresh herbs, just follow your sense of smell to what will be yummy (mine rarely steers me wrong).  Now whatever you do, don't over-complicate things, slow and easy is the way to go!

Just think, won't it be lovely to have a big inviting mixing bowl of potato salad sitting in the fridge just waiting for you on those hot summer days?  Personally I love a spoonful tossed in a travel container to take to work for lunch, talk about a no fuss meal.  And there are so many other wonderful uses for potato salad just waiting to be eaten that it really is hard to resist.  So don't.  Just sit back, relax, and most of all - enjoy!


Co-dependant Butter Cream Sauce

or the sauce that will never leave you...

Ok, to be honest, my bond with this sauce is not necessarily a healthy one so I must point out that as in any such relationship moderation is key.  I would be lying if I didn't admit that it this is truly a "love - hate relationship," and it isn't one I am willing to part with as the benefits far outweigh the risks.  When all else fails around you, this sauce will still be there, clinging loyally to the pasta and patiently waiting for you to indulge.

So here's what you'll need to make the magic happen:

1/2 cup butter
4tbsp flour
1-2 oz fat free cream cheese
1/2 c white wine
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp basil
Parmesan Romano cheese

1. First you'll want to make a rich base for your sauce to mature in, so melt 4 tbsp of butter in a deep pan and stir in the flour until it becomes one (thoroughly blended together) and turns a nice golden color.
2.   Add the remaining butter, making it feel at home by stirring it into the base until melted.  Then toss in the garlic and simmer until it sizzles.  This is where the other spices join the party, stir in the basil and parsley.
3. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the cream cheese in small chunks or slices.  The cheese will be stubborn, so once it is melted use a whisk to incorporate it fully into the sauce.  The white wine will be equally as resistance to this relationship so don't put that whisk down until the wine has been blended in as well.
4. Continue to simmer until it sticks to the spoon when lifted out of the pan, this will show that co-dependency has been achieved.  Toss with prepared pasta and top with a dash of Parmesan Romano cheese as a finishing touch.

Spoon into a pasta bowl, or even onto a plate as the sauce will be hesitant to try to escape, and enjoy with buttery garlic bread or fresh rolls.  For some this relationship may be too intense, if that is the case I suggest limiting your commitment by including it in the meal as a side dish with chicken or steak.  It will by no means fade into the background.  Now, I will sit back with my bowl of overindulgent ravioli in butter cream sauce and leave you to your dinner as well.  Enjoy!