Tag Archives: tomato

Tomatoes and Cucumbers…the Fruits of the Season!

Wow, where has the time gone? I can’t believe it’s already August. And I can’t believe that it’s been so long since I’ve had a blog post. I guess vacations, cleaning up the overgrown yard of the new house, and every day life got in the way. So sorry, I’ll do better, I promise!

The warm weather and humidity continues in this area, Heat waves and thunderstorms have been a regular occurrence, it seems like since June. The only good thing is that the produce has been delicious and abundant. During this time of the summer, tomatoes and cucumbers are especially delicious, and they make the perfect summer salad.

For me, nothing says summer like cucumber and tomato salad. With the addition of some basil and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette, it’s the perfect side for any meal. Not to mention, it’s great to keep the oven and stove off!

To start, use about equal parts cucumbers and tomatoes. I used 2 cucumbers and 3 large, ripe tomatoes (I know there are 4 in the picture, but I only used 3). Core the tomatoes, and slice into chunks. Add to a large bowl. Peel the cucumbers, and slice into rounds. Add to the same bowl. Finally, add fresh basil. Use 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced, and add to the same bowl.tomatoesslicedchoppedcucumberpeeledready for dressingbasilNext, grab a small bowl to make the vinaigrette. Use equal parts Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar. I used about 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Whisk the two to combine. Add about 3 times the amount of olive oil. I used about 3 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper. ingredientsmustardbalsamicPour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and stir to combine.

My favorite way to enjoy this salad is after it’s sat for about 30 minutes, so the juices of the tomato combine with the vinaigrette. One caveat though, be sure to let the salad marinate on the counter. The salad is best at room temperature, and it really is delicious. Fresh, crunchy, and tangy…just perfect!

Enjoy this last month of summer before it’s gone. And stay cool!

Steak House Salad for Summer

It seems like summer’s been here for a while already. Even though Memorial Day weekend started off cool, we had quite the heat wave last week with high temperatures and humidity. With the high temperatures, no one really wants to spend hours in the kitchen preparing dinner. That’s why salads are my go to dinner option in the summer. If you’re looking for a hearty and delicious salad, give this steak house salad a try.

To start, cut 1 onion in half then thinly slice. I like to use a sweet onion like Vidalia, but any will do. Cook the onion in 2 tablespoons over medium high heat until soft and brown, probably 5-10 minutes.onionsfried onionsWhile the onions are cooking, chop 1 head romaine lettuce into bite size pieces, then add to a large bowl. Add 1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half. lettucegrape tomatoeslettuce and tomatoWhen the onions are cooked, pour them over the lettuce and tomatoes. Heat a grill pan, or the pan you just used for the onions if you don’t want to dirty too many dishes, or better yet the grill, over medium high heat. Season a few steaks (I used 3) with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook just a few minutes on each side until cooked on the outside but still pink in the center. I used New York strip, but feel free to use your favorite cut of steak. Once cooked, set them on a cutting board to rest.with onionssteakrestingMake the dressing. Start with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and whisk to combine. Next add 3 tablespoons olive oil, and whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.DijonbalsamicdressingPour the dressing over the salad, then top with 4 oz crumbled blue cheese. Mix to combine. To serve, slice the steak. Serve the salad in large bowls and top with slices of steak.adding dressingblue cheesemixedslicedIf you’re looking for a summer salad that’s also filling and flavorful, this is the one. The combinations of fried onions and steak are perfect together. Combine the blue cheese, and it’s just perfect. And, to top it all off, with a good amount of protein, you won’t be craving a snack in an hour, I promise! 🙂

Growing and Growing and Growing…the Garden!

This summer has been absolutely beautiful.  It’s been cool with low humidity, and just about perfect, or at least where I am.  In fact, it’s mid-August, and I don’t even have the air on.  Judging from the way the garden is performing this summer, the plants are enjoying the mild weather too.

This year, I haven’t had to do much watering, not even in the vegetable garden.  And the weeds haven’t been as bad as they’ve been in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m out there pulling weeds quite often, or just letting them slide, but it doesn’t seem as bad this year.  Maybe it’s the mild weather.  So, since the garden keeps on putting on a show this summer, I thought I’d give you an update.

As you can see from my picture above, the butterflies are loving the butterfly bush.  And, this time of year, it’s covered with beautiful lavender blooms.

Hot Pink Crape MyrtlePink and Purple Crape MyrtleI have three kinds of crape myrtle in my garden, and they are spectacular this time of year.  These above are the hot pink, which I think is my favorite, but also purple and pink.  If you look closely at the second picture, you can see the purple blooms.  They’ve sort of grown into each other.  One of my absolute favorite shrubs.

Black-Eyed SusanThe black eyed susans are at their peak this time of year.  I have yellow blooms all over the garden.  They add such great color, and, as you can see from the picture, they are just covered with beautiful blooms.

PhloxAnother show stopper this time of year is the phlox.  I have white and purple, but this one steals the show.  It’s a pink and white mix.  I just love it.  Too bad the phlox season is a short one.

HollyhockThe hollyhock are also putting on quite a show this time of year.  When I first planted hollyhock, I think I was in college.  I bought seeds and planted a great double variety I found at Burpee.  I loved their bold colors and huge double blooms, but, as I get older, I appreciate the simple single blooms as well.  The single blooms have more of a cottage garden look to them, and I love the show they put on, rising high above the rest in the garden.

DaisyDaisies have to be one of the best perennials out there.  They are so versatile, with there beautiful white blooms.  They are so hardy.  And, probably the best thing, they have a long blooming season.  These have been blooming for a while.  And, although the show isn’t as big as it first was, they are still popping up in the garden.Cone FlowerThis one is a new addition to my garden this year.  It’s a coneflower named Raspberry  Truffle.  Isn’t it just great?  The blooms are big and colorful, and it’s quite a showstopper!20140805_194601Another must have for any shady spot in the garden is a hosta.  I have quite a few in my garden, and this time of year they send up those lovely blooms.  I am a huge fan of the big, beautiful leaves, but when those blooms come up, they are just perfection!

PumpkinsAs a lesson to everyone about the importance of properly disposing of pumpkin seeds, I found this surprise in my perennial bed in front of my back porch.  I must have dropped some pumpkin seeds last Halloween, and it looks like they sprouted quite a big pumpkin plant.  I can’t wait to see what starts growing off this shoot.

TomatoAnd because an update of the garden wouldn’t be complete without a vegetable update, and I have spoken enough about the squash and zucchini, this is a picture of one of my favorite things!  It’s my FIRST red tomato of the season!  This beautiful Brandywine was found just 2 days ago, and I couldn’t have been happier.  I have been waiting for a long time for these to turn red.

Of course, I couldn’t wait to dig in, so, I turned that beautiful baby into one of the best bruschettas I ever made!  Bruschetta

Hope you’re enjoying your garden or maybe a neighbors! 🙂  And I hope you’re having great weather this summer too!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

GardenIt seems like only a few weeks ago when I was writing about planting seeds, but it was actually March 21.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 months, so I thought I would give you an update and let you know how I went about planting everything.

Even though I was on top of the seed planting, my transplanting outdoors was delayed.  Sure, I can blame it on the long winter and the rain we kept getting in the spring, and I can even blame it on the trip we took to Greece in May that took up my time Tilling(more recipes from that trip later), but, really, I was just late! 🙂  I finally tilled the garden and planted everything about a month ago, and, even though things are a bit behind, they are doing really well!

This year, I did try to be strategic about my tilling the garden.  If you turn the soil and then it rains in the next few days, it’s a bad scene.  All of those weed seeds that were just turned get fed with the water and start to grow.  However, if it’s warm and sunny, the seeds will dry out and die.  This year I seemed to time the tilling right and the weeds haven’t been that bad…so far.

Ready for PlantingOnce I got the tilling done, I was ready to plant.  You may remember I had a lovely diagram that I put together for my garden.  And, even though I had the best of intentions, my garden doesn’t exactly look like that diagram.  Things happen!  The beets didn’t quite make it when I took them outside…I didn’t end up with as many squash plants as I wanted…you get the idea.  So, no worries, I adjusted.  However, even Marigoldsthough you may need to make adjustments, I still stand behind the diagram!

After I planted, one trick I always use is planting marigolds around the perimeter of my vegetable garden.  I’ve found that this really keeps the deer away.  The one year I didn’t, the deer had a feast.  So I keep doing it!  I guess it could be a coincidence, but I’m not taking any chances. 🙂

I’m pretty happy with the progress and looking forward to a good yield.  If you’re growing this summer, how are your vegetables coming along?  Here is how things are coming along in my garden…

As you can see from the top picture, my tomatoes are starting to bloom…slow but steady!

The eggplants are coming along!

EggplantThe arugula is doing great…but pay no attention to those weeds growing in there! 🙂

ArugalaThe zucchini is getting huge!ZucchiniBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds was nice enough to send me some complementary red romaine lettuce seeds that are coming along!Red RomaineSince I didn’t have luck with all of my seeds, I did get some spaghetti squash to fill in, and it’s doing great!Spaghetti Squash

Tomato, Basil, Garlic, Olive Oil…Ah Bruschetta

I am not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I love tomatoes.  I love them in all forms, cooked, raw, doesn’t matter.  And one of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes is in bruschetta.

Bruschetta is incredibly simple to make, and absolutely delicious.  And, because it’s all about fresh ingredients, it’s a perfect summer recipe.

Diced TomatoesTo start, find nice, ripe tomatoes.  I prefer the Roma or plum tomatoes for bruschetta because they aren’t as juicy.  Their texture holds up well.  However, really any tomato will do.  And if you have them fresh from the garden, well, they are always the best!  For this recipe I use 5 tomatoes.  And, you may remember a while ago me going on and on about ceramic knives for cutting tomatoes, but I really do taste a difference.  So if you have a ceramic knife, now is the time to use it.  Remove the seeds and dice the tomatoes and add them to a bowl.

Minced GarlicAdd to the tomatoes 3 garlic cloves, minced.  In traditional bruschetta, the garlic would be rubbed on the toasted bread, but I find this works well and is easier.  You want the mince to be pretty small to avoid people getting a huge piece of garlic.  Also, I should warn you, I love garlic, so you may find 3 cloves is a bit much for you, or you may want more.  Feel free to adjust.

To the tomatoes and garlic, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper.  I also add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.  I think purists would probably just stick with the olive oil and not include the vinegar, but I think it adds a great flavor to the bruschetta.

BasilFinally, add 6 basil leaves.  I chiffonade them.  Sounds impressive, right?  Well, it just means you roll the leaves up and cut them into strips. Now give the bruschetta a stir and you’re done.

I prefer bruschetta at room temperature.  Also, as it sits, the tomatoes release their juices, adding to the delicious liquid.  Serve the bruschetta with toasted sliced Italian bread.  Just grill the bread, or toast it on a cookie sheet in the oven.  The crispy bread Bruschettadoes a great job of soaking up the delicious juice.

Bruschetta makes a great appetizer, but it’s also a good side.  And it works well at barbeques or picnics.  I might whip up a batch for Memorial Day!  Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone!

A Delicious Summer Dinner…Shrimp and Orzo with Spinach and Tomatoes

TomatoesI’m always playing with recipes, trying new things in the kitchen, and looking for different things to make for dinner.  I especially like to try seasonal things, tying the food to the weather.  When spring and summer hit, I start to think about some of my favorite foods, like seafood, especially shrimp.  Recently, I had played around with some ingredients and came up with a delicious dinner, shrimp and orzo with spinach and tomatoes.

Shallots and GarlicFor this recipe, cook 1 1/2 cups orzo according to the package directions.  While it is cooking, you can prepare the rest.  Saute 1 large shallot, minced, in 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  You want the shallots to be soft and have a bit of color.  It only takes a few minutes.  Add to the shallots 4 garlic cloves, chopped.  Cook those for a few minutes to get a little bit of color, but make sure they don’t get too dark.  Add 1/2 cup white wine, and deglaze the pan (scrape up any cooked bits from the pan).

Shrimp Tomato SpinachTo the saute pan, add 1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp.  Cook the shrimp until they start to turn pink.  They only take maybe 2 minutes on each side.  Add 8 oz spinach to the pan.  Stir carefully…I always seem to toss the spinach everywhere.  But it will start to wilt and become part of the dish.  Add 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes that have been cut in half.  You just want the tomatoes to heat through, so it will only take a minute or two.  They don’t need to cook.  Add 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, then stir everything with the cooked orzo.

Leave everything for about 15 minutes while the flavors come together and the orzo absorbs some of the sauce.  Grate 4 oz Asiago cheese into the dish and serve.

OrzoThis makes a great, light dinner, especially on a warm night.  I like it almost at room temperature, but if you prefer it hot, you can just dig in sooner.

An Update on the Garden and Seeds!

Today was finally the kind of day I’ve been waiting for.  It was beautiful, the sun was shining, the temperature was in the mid-60s, the grass was turning green, and everything outside seemed to be green and growing.  It finally feels like spring, so I took the opportunity to check things out in the yard.  I also wanted to provide some updates on the seeds I planted a few weeks ago.

Bearded IrisAs I wander through the yard, it’s always nice to see mother nature in action, sending up new shoots.  I spotted some of my bearded irises first.  They have such beautiful blooms, even though they are short-lived, but the spikes of leaves last longer and really add contrast to the garden.  The other great things about bearded iris is that they multiply fast.  What starts out as just 1 small rhizome quickly spreads.  You can divide them also to have more and also spread them out.  I’ve found that after the clump gets too big, you really need to divide or the flowers aren’t as big.

PeonySome of my favorites, especially in the spring, are peonies.  I love the big flowers.  They put on quite a show.  I have both tree peonies and herbaceous peonies.  The tree peonies are interesting in shape, but I think I lean towards the good, old-fashioned herbaceous ones.  Thankfully both are starting to show growth in the garden.  The herbaceous ones always send up these amazing red shoots.  They are easy to spot in the spring soil.  They will be bursting with color in May.

Tree PeonyThe tree peony is a very interesting specimen.  As the name suggests, it grows as a tree, and it sends out new shoots every year.  These shoots will include the buds that will also put on quite a show in a few months.  The one very nice thing about the tree peony is that the flowers don’t weigh the plant down.  Often times, towards the end of the blooming season, especially if we get a good rain, the herbaceous blooms will end up on the ground because they weigh the delicate branches down.  The tree peony comes with its own built-in support!

DayliliesDaylilies are just starting to burst through the soil.  The bright green shoots are coming up in a number of places.  They prefer a little bit of shade and do really well, growing into very substantial clumps, sending up big, colorful blooms.

20140331_161038Even though many people think of mums in the fall, they do start to sprout now if you have them in the garden.  They are a hardy perennial, and I’m always lecturing people about how they can plant their fall potted ones in the ground.  The good news is a bunch of friends have no desire to do it, so I get their leftovers!  These will need a cutting back before July 4th to make sure they don’t bloom too early.  Any later than that, and they won’t have time to bloom at all this season.

Probably the favorite plant in my garden as far as my Strawberryniece and nephews are concerned, the strawberry plants are doing well already.  They will have sweet, delicious berries in a few months.  One thing to note, they spread like crazy.  I have a few sections on the side of my house where there are beds that are surrounded by sidewalk.  They have done great in this location, and also can’t take over anything!  It’s a win/win.

TulipsI have a number of bulbs that I’ve planted over the years.  Some of my favorites are daffodils and tulips.  I love that the daffodils are one of the first to bloom in the spring.  They are such a welcome sight, and they multiply and create full clusters in the garden.  Tulips are another favorite, and you can really spread out their bloom time with the different varieties available today.  They are just starting to poke through, although they will take a little while to send up buds.  Even so, they are always such a welcome sight in the early summer garden.

As for the seeds I wrote about a few weeks ago, I’m happy to report that I have seedlings for all of them.  Some have definitely done better than others, but I’m not loosing hope.  There is still time for a few to come through.  Here is what’s growing so far:

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Eggplant

Eggplant…small, but coming along.

Kale...I've gotta thin these!

Kale…I’ve gotta thin these!

Tomatoes...these are both the San Marzano and Brandywine varieties.

Tomatoes…these are both the San Marzano and Brandywine varieties.

Beets...you can't miss these...I love the red color.

Beets…you can’t miss these…I love the red color.

Fava Beans...these are growing like crazy!

Fava Beans…these are growing like crazy!

Sage

Sage

Chives...these are also so tiny.

Chives…these are also so tiny.

Taragon

Tarragon

Squash

Squash