Monday, August 31, 2015

Hungarian Sour Cream Cucumber Salad

We grew cucumbers! It only took two and a half months from seeds to cukes, but we did it!

Just before we harvested our first cukes from our Tower Garden, I asked friends on Facebook for their favorite recipes. My friend Brian suggested a sour cream cucumber salad and several friends backed that up. Apparently, this is a quintessential Southern summertime dish. While I have lived in Charlotte for the past 12 years and have also lived in Birmingham, Alabama, and Lexington, Kentucky, I had no idea! Definitely making this again!


PS: I added Hungarian to the name, because I saw other versions of this salad use that in the recipe phrase AND the hubby and I just visited -- and loved -- Budapest!

Hungarian Sour Cream Cucumber Salad
Inspired by

1/2 cup sour cream (I use light)
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
Ground pepper to taste
3-4 cucumbers, peeled (if desired) and thinly sliced
1 small sweet onion or 1/2 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
Dill to taste

In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, sugar and pepper. Add the cucumbers and onion, tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours. Top with dill and serve.

Note: When preparing this for a dinner party Chez George, I forgot to read the recipe sufficiently in advance, so I didn't know about the fridge time. The salad was able to sit in the fridge for only about an hour. It still tasted good, but it was definitely better the next day. Sometimes things just have to marinate.

Here is my younger daughter Penny, who harvested our first cucumbers from our Tower Garden.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bulgur Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers

Have you ever had bulgur wheat before? It's cracked, dried wheat, and it's really quite delicious. Bulgur wasn't something we grew up eating in my Swedish mother's kitchen. But when I married my hunky hubby (he would absolutely die if he knew I referred to him as that, by the way), I acquired a fabulous mother-in-law who's half Lebanese. She introduced me to the tantalizing flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine.

One of her (many!) specialties is Tabouleh, which features bulgur, parsley, and lemon. It's refreshing, healthy, and ridiculously delicious. I didn't have the inclination to chop up a bunch of parsley, so I decided to create another tasty side dish featuring this too-often-overlooked grain.

Bulgur is simple to prepare; it just needs a soak in some boiling water. So it can do its thing on the stove while you take care of the laundry situation lurking upstairs. (Or maybe it's just me who needs to deal with said situation.) And if it steams longer than 20 minutes? Eh. That's fine. I'm a fan of food that doesn't require constant babysitting. I've got a kid for that.

Speaking of kids...if yours are a bit weary of this new grain on the dinner table, you can tell them it tastes like couscous. I may or may not have convinced my toddler to eat a bowl by telling him it was couscous. (They're both made of wheat, so it didn't feel like an egregious lie, but I'm still having guilt about it, thank-you-very-much. Also, please note that my boy absolutely did NOT eat this salad...he prefers his bulgur—and everything—plain. Sigh.)

On that note...

Let's get cooking!

Bulgar Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers
Serves: 6-8 (as a side dish)
Inspired by Tabouleh and Amy's Tomato Avocado Quinoa Salad

1 cup water
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth (or substitute water)
1 cup bulgur
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup thin cucumber slices, quartered
1 cup quartered grape (or cherry) tomatoes
Salt and pepper

In a saucepan, bring water and broth to a boil. Stir in bulgur. Cover and allow bulgur to steam for about 20 minutes. Pretty much all of the liquid should be absorbed, but if there's a lot left, drain it off. Fluff bulgur with a fork. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Once bulgur has cooled, stir in lemon juice, olive oil, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature or cool.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Double Blueberry Pie

Ever since I started sharing recipes with you, dear readers, friends and family are giving me cookbooks. Old ones, new ones — it doesn't matter. I love them all.

This blueberry pie combines recipes from two different Farm Journal cookbooks. One is borrowed from my neighbor Julie, who knew I would enjoy trying some simple down-home cooking. The other came from my mother-in-law and is filled with sweet and savory pie ideas.

These cookbooks are from 1977 and 1965, which makes them educational and fun to read. Like this comment on the pie: "We love the good berry taste." And it is so good.

This dessert comes together fast, especially if you cheat like I did and use a pre-made crust. I really just wanted to enjoy the berry filling as soon as possible.

Mangia! Mangia!

Double Blueberry Pie
Inspired by Farm Journal

1/2 cup sugar (use 3/4 cup if you like a sweeter pie)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
4 cups blueberries
1 tablespoon butter
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
1 baked 9-inch pie crust (use freshly made or refrigerated dough or a frozen pie shell like Wholly Wholesome's Organic Whole Wheat frozen pie crust)

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a small pan. Add water and 2 cups blueberries. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Continue cooking until blueberry mixture becomes thick.

Remove from heat and stir in butter, lemon juice and lemon zest. Set aside to cool.

Place remaining 2 cups blueberries in baked pie shell. Top with cooled blueberry mixture.

Chill in refrigerator at least 1 hour. Slice and serve with whipped cream.

Above, Farm Journal's Complete Pie Cookbook and Farm Journals's Best-Ever Recipes. You can access many original and new Farm Journal recipes at Anna's Country Kitchen.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pomegranate Wine Spritz

Friday ended a loooooong week at work (but aren't they all?) and marked the end of summer as the kids head back to school today. To honor these events, on Friday evening, I made happy-hour-in-the-'hood drinks for me and my neighbor Judith. I guess you could say I was inspired by Andrea's Watermelon Raspberry Rum Punch.

Cheers, y'all!


Pomegranate Wine Spritz

POM Wonderful juice
Sparkling white wine, chilled

Add one ounce of POM to each Champagne flute, followed by one ounce of vodka that you pulled from your freezer. (Tell me you DO store the vodka in the freezer.) Fill flutes the rest of the way with sparkling white wine. Stir gently; I used a chopstick.

If desired, pour some POM (just POM) in a shot glass for your 6YO so she can enjoy an end-of-summer "cocktail," too.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer Salad with Berry Vinaigrette

Here in the great Northwest, school doesn't start until September. It was the same when I was growing up in Buffalo. So I've been flabbergasted by all the back-to-school pictures plastered on my Facebook feed this week.

In my crazy brain it goes something like this, "These kids look so cute with their fresh haircuts and backpacks! Wait...backpacks. What? How are these children going back to school already?! It's mid-August! I'm not ready for school supplies! Or leaves falling! Or cold weather! It's practically Christmas. Oh, geez. And where's my snow brush. I should put that in the car..."

See the slippery slope to snow? Yeah. Not cool.

So I'm here to remind all of us that it's still summer. Hear that? IT'S STILL SUMMER! Eat the corn! And the ice cream cones! And the berries! Allllll the berries. We'll start with this glorious Summer Salad with Berry Vinaigrette. And we'd better make it quickly, before the snow gets here.

Let's get cooking!

Summer Salad with Berry Vinaigrette
Dressing adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

For the Dressing*:
1 cup raspberries
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the Salad:
8 ounces mixed greens
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup toasted pecans
3 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Using your food processor or blender, blend together all the dressing ingredients except for the poppy seeds. Once the dressing is smooth, stir in poppy seeds. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Place greens in a large bowl and top with berries, pecans, and goat cheese. Drizzle with some of the dressing just before serving. You can serve extra dressing on the side.

*This recipe makes about 2 cups of dressing, which is probably more than you need for this amount of salad. But the dressing is so delicious you'll want to drizzle it on everything for the next few days! Just use what you need and keep the leftovers in the fridge.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Watermelon Raspberry Rum Punch

When you are a mom of school-age kids, the end of summer is bittersweet. The start of school means an end to constant sibling arguing (yay!) and a return to hectic days ruled by schedules, homework, sports practices and lunch making (boo.)

All of this is worth celebrating.

Enter the Watermelon Raspberry Rum Punch. This fruity and frothy cocktail goes down easy.

It's the perfect drink to sip by the pool with a few other mom friends as you savor those last few days of summer break — or to celebrate the first few days of school and (at least for me) a chance to reclaim the house.

Mangia! Mangia!

Watermelon Raspberry Rum Punch 

6 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
1 pint ripe raspberries
Juice of 1 lemon (or about 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
1 cup light rum or lemon or citrus-flavored rum
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or splenda (optional)

Place all ingredients in blender. Blend or pulse until smooth.

Pour through strainer. Serve over ice with a garnish of small watermelon slices or a few raspberries. Drink and enjoy with friends.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Blue Cheese Corn on the Cob

One summer, years ago, Jeff and I attended a party at a reporter friend's lake house. Our friend Dan could cook and grill as well as he could write. Now he owns his own barbecue catering company and he's written a cookbook or two. Dan, you are living the dream!

Anyhow, Dan made this blue cheese corn on the cob that I have literally (and I don't use that word lightly) been thinking about every summer since. He pulled back and tied the husk to form a handle and then he dipped each ear into a vat of melted butter and blue cheese and he grilled it until the kernels turned a nice caramel color. I believe he brushed more butter and cheese over the ears in the grilling process.

This past weekend, I came up with a less messy, indoor version of Dan's corn on the cob. It's also a little kinder on the arteries, but, man, was Dan's corn the best.


Blue Cheese Corn on the Cob

Corn on the cob, cleaned  and husked
Soft or melted butter
Blue cheese crumbles, about 1 ounce per ear of corn

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place ears of corn on cookie sheet.

Brush each ear with butter. (BTW, I just invested in a French-style butter crock that allows me to keep soft butter on the counter top instead of the fridge. Should have done this years ago. Love it.)

Salt and pepper each ear.

Bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

After 20 minutes or when a few kernels have started to turn a nice caramel color, remove corn from oven and top with blue cheese. Return corn to oven and cook for 2-4 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Note that some of the yummy cheese will have slid off the ears and onto the cookie sheet. It would be a sin to let that stuff go to waste. Roll the ears of corn over that goodness or take a knife and spread it onto the corn.

Eat immediately.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dungeness Crab

Last week, the husband, our boy and I took a little trip to San Juan Island. It's a short car and ferry boat trip from our new digs in Seattle. It's incredibly beautiful and relaxing...the perfect place to unwind after a cross-country move.

One of our adventures while we were there was catching Dungeness crab. It was entertaining and hilarious. Little crabs scampering all over the boat with our son giggling like a maniac and me trying to keep their pinchers from my toes and the husband trying to wrangle them into the cooler. And it was delicious, too. At the end of our crabbing, we had pile of fresh seafood for dinner. Glory be.

Interested in crab catching fun? This is how our day went down...

After securing a fishing license (let's stay out of trouble, now), our first step was baiting the crab trap (with stinky frozen salmon heads) and tossing it into the water. This was trickier than it seemed. You have to be strategic with where you leave your trap...if the water is too shallow, you'll end up catching rock crab instead of Dungeness. Not bad, but not ideal. If the water is too deep, you'll lose your trap. And then you're out a bunch of money and you have no crab. Lame.

At this point you need to exercise some patience. Your trap needs to sit in the water waiting for those little crabby crabs to wander in. So read a book, bake some cookies, take a hike, whatever. Just leave the trap. We left ours for about 12 hours.

Once your patience is exhausted, it's time to sail out to your trap and haul in your catch. Well, hopefully you have a catch. You could have a whole lot of nothin', but let's focus on the positive. (Our first day, we only ended up with one rock crab that was big enough to keep. So don't feel bad if you don't have a ton of crabs. Day two was much more fruitful.)

Pull up your trap and get your ruler ready. Dungeness crabs need to be at least 6 1/4" or you have to toss them back in. And they need to be male crabs, too. The ladies get to keep on swimmin'. Also keep in mind that you can only hang on to five crabs. So gather the big boys and pop them in a cooler for the boat ride back to land.

There are a couple ways to put the poor crabs out of their misery. Some people boil them alive, but we prefer to chop them in half with a well-placed shovel blow to end it all quickly. Then scoop out the guts and gills and use a hose to spray the crabs clean.

Now fill a big, giant pot with suuuuper salty water and get that baby boiling. If you're really serious, use this bad boy:

Carefully drop the crabs into the pot. Once the water returns to a boil, set your timer for 15 minutes. When the time is up, use tongs to remove the crabs from the water.

Place the crabs in ice water for a few minutes so they stop cooking. Once the crabs are cool enough to handle...dinner is served! There are plenty of things you can do with the crab, but when it was swimming in the ocean minutes earlier, we like to eat it simply with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon.

Forget cooking...let's get crabbing!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Grilled Scallops with Blistered Green Beans

I'm having a love affair with scallops this summer — ever since I realized how well they hold up on the grill.

This main dish is easy to prep and super simple to cook.

The husband and I really enjoy these scallops, and so does my youngest, Sam. Add a beer for the grown ups and it's the perfect summer meal.

Mangia! Mangia!

Grilled Scallops

2 pounds large (sea) scallops, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice, lime juice or some of both
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or Italian (flat leaf) parsley

Thaw scallops if frozen. Pat dry and place in medium bowl.

Mix together oil, lemon and/or lime juice, salt and pepper and cilantro or parsley. Pour over scallops and gently stir to coat all of the scallops. Let sit in refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat your grill to medium high heat. Spray a grill grate with cooking spray.

Place scallops on grill and cook for about 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn scallops and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove from grill and plate these babies up with some green beans.

Blistered Green Beans

1 pound or 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)

Toss green beans with oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper in a 9 x 13 metal or foil pan. (I use an old jelly roll pan.)

Cook on grill for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Continue cooking until green beans are lightly browned and blistered on at least one side. Drain off oil before serving.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Shrimp Salad

During our kitchen renovation, my family relied at times on prepared foods from the fresh bar at our grocery store. One of the items we tried: shrimp salad. I'd never made shrimp salad but recently got a hankering to do so. The steamy temps in Charlotte had me craving something light and I had lettuce to pick from my new tower garden.

Sometimes I like to sample two or three salads at a meal. With this shrimp salad, I'd be tempted to also try Cucumber Sesame Salad and Grilled Peach Salad with Goat Cheese.


Shrimp Salad
Adapted from

1 pound cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined (40-50 count recommended)
1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 1/2 carrots, diced small
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Lettuce or sandwich rolls for serving

Cut shrimp in half (if desired--depends on personal preference). Combine shrimp with rest of ingredients. Note on the mayo: 1/3 cup will probably be enough. Start with that and you can always add more.

Chill for one hour. Serve on top of lettuce or inside sandwich rolls.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Cucumber Couscous

Today I've got another summer side dish for you: Cucumber Couscous. And in case "because I said so" isn't a good enough excuse to make it, here are three reasons why you should add this one to your menu post haste.

Number one. It's easy. When your sidewalk chalk project takes longer than expected, you need to get dinner on the table fast. Couscous cooks in 5 minutes, so there you go. More summer fun? Don't mind if I do.

Number two. Cucumber Couscous is light and refreshing. I don't know if it's the water content in cucumbers or what, but they taste so stinking good when it's hot out. The crisp crunch of the cucumbers plus the fresh flavor of parsley knocks my socks off. It's the perfect pairing for grilled lamb kabobs or steak.

Number three. This dish can be served at room temperature. So it's perfect for when company is coming over or you're heading to the park for a barbecue. You don't want to be slaving over the stove at the last minute. It's summer. We should all be sipping pina coladas around the pool with our pals as much as humanly possible.

Now let's get cooking!

Cucumber Couscous
Inspired by Budget Bytes
Serves: 6

2 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
1 1/2 cups couscous
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large English (seedless) cucumber, quartered and sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper

In a large saucepan bring broth to a boil. Stir in couscous. Cover and turn off the heat. Allow couscous to sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork.

Stir in lemon juice, olive oil, cucumber, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Watermelon Lime Salad

We eat lots of watermelon in the summer. If I let him, my Sam would eat nothing else.

I decided to try using it in a salad thanks to all the magazines I see featuring the bright red fruit as the starring ingredient.

This side features what I had in the fridge the day I made it. I meant to add feta cheese to the recipe, but completely forgot about it. The kids were hungry and kept asking when we were going to eat, and I was rushing to get dinner on the table.

Turns out it tasted perfectly yummy. I added feta when I had leftovers for lunch the next day and yum! That was tasty, too.

Mangia! Mangia!

Watermelon Lime Salad
Inspired by the many magazines delivered to my home

6 to 8 cups cubed seedless watermelon
1/2 a large red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste
Optional: Feta cheese, chopped chives, cold cooked shrimp

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Serve right away or let salad chill for bit in the fridge first.

You can turn this salad into a main dish by adding feta cheese and chilled cooked shrimp and serving it over mixed greens. No need to add any dressing.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Grilled Corn Salsa

The sweet corn is at the market and it tastes so good cooked on the grill.

Erin's Corn, Avocado & Tomato Salad and Amy's Chili Lime Corn Salad are delicious ways to make the most of summer produce. This salsa is how we do corn at my house, when we aren't eating it straight from the cob.

I always cook a few extra ears when I make grilled corn in case someone wants seconds — and so I have enough leftover to whip up this side dish.

The combination of lime juice and fresh corn is a taste I just can't get enough of. Yellow or red bell peppers add some crunch, but since my husband is not a huge pepper fan, I usually leave them out.

We like to eat this salsa with chips or pair it with tacos, grilled meat or fish.

Mangia! Mangia!

Grilled Corn Salsa

3 ears of grilled corn on the cob
1 pint yellow and red grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lime zest for garnish
Optional: 1 bell pepper, any color, diced

After the ears of corn are cool enough to handle, slice kernels off the cob and place in medium bowl. Hint: Use a bundt pan (shown below) to catch the kernels as you slice them off the cob.

Add tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, bell pepper if using, and lime juice. Add salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle with lime zest.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for 30 minutes or more. A little chilling lets the flavors combine and really boosts the taste of this salsa.