a push-back-the-fall appetizer!

It’s Labor Day, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on summer!   I don’t know about you, but though I love the fall, I’m not ready to welcome it with open arms quite yet…

Back in July, my dear friend Arielle sent me an intriguing watermelon recipe.  I had been meaning to try it all summer, and in a scramble to relish the season today, I decided to finally throw it together.

Classy Watermelon

This is what Arielle says:

1. Chop up watermelon into bite size pieces and place in a festive bowl.
2. Sprinkle with a dash of pink sea salt.
3. Top with fresh basil and goat cheese crumbles.
4. Drizzle with a light dusting of balsamic and…

VOILA! A savory way to enjoy a sweet summer treat!

*This is especially lovely with a bandol (bone dry, from the south of France) style Rose wine. 

Happy summer!

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mexican monday: fish tacos & queso.

Mexican Monday was a great success this week!  While the menu generally consists of quesadillas plus a range of dips, I decided to focus only on two components this time: Fish Tacos with Green Apple Guacamole and “A More Natural” Chile Con Queso.  It was one of those meals that seemed to take forever to prep, because of all the chopping, peeling, and grating involved!  (I really need to take a cooking class on knife skills!)  The end result was SO worth it though.

I considered substituting chicken for the cod in the tacos, but ended up following the recipe almost exactly.  The chicken probably would have been fine, but the cod really complemented the other items in the taco well.  I love discovering strange ingredient combinations that just mesh.  Green apples in guacamole?  I knew that could either be weird or amazing…  and it really turned out great!  Refreshingly light and delicious.

Fish Tacos with Green Apple Guacamole

I’ve had a difficult time photographing tacos and quesadillas, so I just held it open this time!  Plus, now I can show off my manicured thumb.

This is the first time I’ve ever made queso, and in browsing through a few recipes, I noticed quickly that Velveeta cheese is a standard ingredient.  Now, I don’t mind eating things with Velveeta.  At this point, I realize that probably every queso I’ve ever had has included Velveeta… and I will continue to charge forward and dip my chips in these quesos!  However, there is something about creating the food on my own that makes me very picky about what I use.  I have weird rules for myself, like I hate using canned vegetables, frozen meat, or pre-grated cheese (this rule is not as important as the other two).   Anyway, I searched and found a recipe with more natural cheeses.

Queso substitutions:  I used a poblano pepper, a light green pepper (a medium-spicy mystery pepper), along with the jalapenos.  For cheeses, I chose a New York Cheddar along with a Habanero Pepper Jack from somewhere in the midwest.

Side-note on peeling tomatoes… is there an easy way to do it?  This is probably an odd comparison, but I almost felt like I was peeling a human!  The roma tomato was so slimy and veiny underneath.  (Sorry, that is very unappealing.)

A More Natural Chile Con Queso w/Tortilla Chips.

The queso was SO good.  We still have some left over, so I have just been loving life.  I was humbled yesterday, because the Washingtonian posted on their Best Bites Blog that Chef Jeff Tunks uses Velveeta in his mac & cheese at Passion Fish.  I adore Passion Fish and everything they do, and it is true: Velveeta does make both queso and mac & cheese pretty good.  I think I’ll stick to this delicious recipe though.  :)

basic enchiladas.

Do you ever get really excited about doing something you don’t usually do, only to realize later that there’s a reason why you don’t usually do it?  Well, this happened to me with enchiladas the other night.  No, this story isn’t going where you think it’s going.  (I probably started off too dramatic.)  All I’m saying is that I don’t usually eat enchiladas, but for awhile now, I’ve been really excited about the idea of them.

Chicken Enchiladas

After finally sitting down to taste my finished product, I remembered that I actually REALLY REALLY don’t like enchilada sauce.  What a bummer!  Objectively, I think that it all came out great.  The chicken and cheese on the inside were perfect.  I think the issue was that I used sauce from a can, and it just was not the best.  I’m not going to give up on enchiladas.  Next time, I will just make my own sauce… and I will make a different kind from the canned kind.

By the way, I think it was Old El Paso canned enchilada sauce.

Here is the recipe I used.  (Adjustment: I also threw in some extra queso blanco we had in our fridge.)  I still want to promote the recipe, because it was truly great and Chris really enjoyed the meal!  He gets the leftovers this time.  :)

experimenting with duck.

There are two things that Chris LOVES to eat whenever he has the chance: scallops and duck! I decided to try cooking a duck meal for us this past Friday night, and though it was somewhat intimidating at first, it turned out really well!

I think I get a little nervous whenever I attempt new meats or new fish, because I never want to overcook or undercook. Either extreme can obviously ruin a whole meal. I do have a pretty good meat thermometer though, so there really should be no reason to worry. Someday I want to try to cook a whole entire animal! I plan to learn from my amazing Greek mother at some point.

Anyway, I decided to sear and bake duck breasts for us. I watched a few YouTube videos, and learned a lot of different things, like which side is the skin side, how to know when it’s done, etc. I would say that Gordon Ramsay was the most helpful… though if you also want to learn how to drain the fat by scoring in a criss-cross fashion, you’ll have to watch this video.

Basically, I scored the duck breasts, salted and peppered them, seared them for about 10 minutes on each side, baked them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (skin-side down), and finally added some pan-fried pancetta on top. I don’t think you even need pancetta for a nice result, but I wanted to make sure something was good in case the duck itself tasted awful. :)

Baked Duck w/Pancetta & Sweet Potato Fries

As you can see, I also made some sweet potato fries! I attempted to make similar fries a few months ago, and ended up burning them and setting off our fire alarm multiple times! I think the key is remember to turn them over halfway through cooking. This go around, I also cooked the fries at a lower heat for a longer amount of time… broiling just didn’t seem to work out well before. This was the recipe I used, only with sherry vinegar. Also, I just invested in some Spanish smoked paprika, so I was excited to throw that in there as well.

The meal turned out a lot smaller than it looks in the photo (the duck breasts seemed to shrink a lot in the cooking process), but it was still filling and very yummy. I was so glad Chris felt treated! I cook a lot of veggie meals, so he definitely deserved some manly meat. :) By the way, did you know that duck is apparently the new pork?

salmon w/dill & cucumber sauce.

I mentioned yesterday having fresh basil from a church family’s home garden.  A mom I know from the youth group was incredibly generous to me, and gave me an ASSORTMENT of fresh vegetables recently!  Fresh basil, dill, chard, a green pepper, and two cucumbers!  She suggested that I make salmon with cucumber and dill sauce, so I picked up some salmon on the way home and made it happen that very night!

Salmon w/ Dill & Cucumber Sauce

I got a little carried away with the amount of sauce, and we ended up scraping some off.  The recipe I used said to serve the salmon in a “puddle of sauce,” but maybe I interpreted that too extremely!  In any case, the meal was very fresh-tasting and lovely.  We ate on our teeny tiny balcony as the sun went down!  As Sandra McCracken once said, “Contentment is like muscle strength.  Gratitude is the exercise.”  (I think she tweeted that a long time ago actually, but I’ll never forget it!)  So the blessings count that night went like this: we were thankful for love, fresh garden produce, salmon, health, the sunset, and having more than we need — in so many ways.

little caprese treats.

These mini caprese treats don’t even need instruction!  As you can see, they simply consist of fresh mozzarella, sliced cherry tomatoes, and a bit of basil all on a toothpick!  Plus some fresh ground pepper.  So easy, and you feel like you’re in a classy restaurant when you’re eating them…

Mini Caprese Snacks

I am especially proud of these treats, because all of the ingredients are organic.  The fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes are from our farmer’s market across the street, and the basil was part of a lovely gift to us from a church family’s home garden.  Wonderful!

a bachelorette party spread!

As the matron of honor (I know, “matron” sounds so old!), I was in charge of throwing my dear friend Lauren a bachelorette party!  She wanted margaritas, a request I was happy to comply with, so I planned the spread to be mostly Mexican-themed. :)

Bachelorette Party Spread

MENU

  • Margaritas (2 shots quality tequila, 1 shot cointreau, 1/2 shot lime juice, 1/2 shot agave nectar for 1 strong serving)…  very pure and lovely margs!
  • Lemonade
  • Barbacoa Sliders
  • Mini homemade pizzas (pepperoni and cheese options, garlic & herb dough from Trader Joe’s)
  • Exotic Fruit (thanks to Julianne)
  • Homemade Guacamole (avocados, lime juice, fresh cilantro, sea salt, and pepper)
  • Salsa (thanks to Kim)
  • Tortilla Chips (thanks to Kim and Carrie)
  • Queso (thanks to Chaney)
  • Spicy Artichoke Dip (thanks to Carrie… I sure need to get this recipe!!)
  • Cheese-Stuffed Peppers (Poblano & Sweet Peppers stuffed w/a ricotta, cream cheese, cayenne pepper spice, & red pepper flake spice blend… then coated in olive oil and broiled!)
It all turned out AMAZING, and I was so thankful to have great contributors help out!  Lauren had a wonderful time, and felt very celebrated.  Hooray for love, and for good food! :)  Here is a close-up of the sliders… I used the same barbacoa recipe from this post… I added lots more jalapenos and such, but still couldn’t get it very spicy!  Oh well, still good.  The coleslaw was from the recipe I referenced in this post.

Barbacoa Sliders

I was inspired to make Barbacoa Sliders, because of my obsession with the happy hour at La Sandia in Tysons.  Seriously, their happy hour has SUCH great deals on food and drinks.  In fact, they just extended happy hour until 9pm on weekdays!  You bet I’ll be there on Friday before seeing the new Harry Potter movie!