Lest you think my family and I survive on berries and chocolate alone, I thought it was time to share an actual meal with you hungry readers.  Sure I know “people” who might on occasion settle in over a pile of brownies and call it dinner, but really, it is time to talk about real food, with protein and vegetables included.  This is the kind of food we should eat most of the time to make the indulgences of jam-piled pancakes and syrup-coated ice cream well deserved.

In truth, most of our summer meals resemble this one.   We have some lean grilled meat, seasoned up to our whim.  One the side is a pile of some kind of beautiful warm season veggie.  There may be some focaccia bread or rice, but more and more I find that we do not miss the starch when we leave it out.  In its place, I make a double portion of vegetables.  Yes, even the kids do not seem to notice this omission (I just make sure they get their piles of pasta on another night during the week).

Armenian Lamb Kebabs are very simple to prepare, yet just different enough to pass for something special if need arises.  They are perfectly seasoned to compliment the lamb without overpowering it. The Greek Salad is a fabulous side to the lamb, but it could be paired with any number of other meats.

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What a fabulous week it has been.  It is officially summer for me now.  After my 17 years of schooling and then 8 years of teaching high school science, the rhythm of the academic calendar is deeply rooted in my bones.  So even though the weather is unseasonably soggy and  gloomy, deep down inside I still know that- School’s…out for summer!!!   To make the upcoming break all that much more sweet, on my last day of school I found out that my Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart won the contest for the Best Dirt Cheap Dinner on food52.  What an incredible honor!  I am a huge fan of food52.  It is one of my go-t0 sites for great recipes and culinary inspiration from the many fabulous cooks that contribute to the site.  What a great way to start the summer and kick off my serious cooking and canning season!

As a celebratory meal, I made Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken.  I love how chicken is both a perfect special occasion meal, yet inexpensive and quick enough to be perfectly suited for a weeknight as well.  This particular recipe is a regular in our rotation.  It is easy to adapt by changing the herbs, I call for rosemary here, but you could also use thyme, oregano, basil, or forgo the herbs altogether and add a touch of curry paste to the garlic mixture instead.

Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken can be made with any pieces of chicken you prefer.  The original recipe calls for chicken thighs.  Since I often buy chickens whole and part them myself, I have always made it with a whole parted chicken.  When arranging the pieces in the pan, I put the breasts in the center and dark meat pieces around the outside.  All the pieces cook up perfectly!  Preparing this meal is incredibly simple.  Spread garlic paste over the chicken pieces and under the skin, then roast the chicken until the skin is browned and crackly, but the meat is super tender and moist.  The herbs perfume the meat and the lemon roasts and caramelizes lending a rich, lemony flavor.  Degrease the juices and reduce to make a flavorful sauce to pour over the sliced meat.  Dress it up or dress it down, this chicken is great for any occasion.

Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken

adapted from  Bill Devin at  Fine Cooking

via The 140 Best American Recipes by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens

Serves 6

the garlic paste

2 garlic cloves

pinch of salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

Mince garlic with a knife.  Sprinkle salt over the garlic and the flat blade of your knife to grind the garlic into a fine paste.  Transfer paste to a bowl.  Drizzle oil over paste slowly while whisking vigorously until mixture is uniform and emulsified.  (If it does not emulsify, do not worry.  The chicken will still turn out great.)

the chicken

1 5-pound chicken, parted

2 large lemons, sliced into 1/4 inch slices

1 bunch rosemary (6 4-inch pieces)

2 tablespoons white wine

freshly cracked black pepper

Rub the chicken pieces with the garlic paste thoroughly on both the outside and inside of the skin.   Cover and let chill 2 hours to overnight. The longer you let it chill, the more flavorful it will be.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and set rack in the middle of the oven.

Using a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, lay lemon slices evenly over the bottom.  Arrange rosemary sprigs over the top of the lemon and chicken pieces, skin side up, on top of the rosemary.  The breasts should be in the center since they cook the fastest.  Arrange the dark meat pieces around the outside.

Bake the chicken for 45 minutes or until the skin is browned and crisp and the meat is cooked thoroughly.

Transfer the chicken pieces to a platter and cover loosely with foil.  Strain any accumulated juices into a small saucepan.  Skim fat from the top.  Heat remaining juices over medium to create a simmer.  Add white wine and black pepper to taste. Simmer until sauce is reduced by 1/3.  Serve meat as whole pieces or sliced with the flavorful sauce.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken

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Thai Lettuce Wraps

May 26, 2011

The end of the school year is near, which always means my life, as a teacher, becomes temporarily overwhelmingly busy.  The good news is that in two weeks I will be off for the summer with nothing to do but play with the kiddos, work in the garden, and of course cook.  The canning jars are all nearly empty, taunting me with possibilities.  But right now, in between writing finals and grading the last of the lab notebooks, there is little time for much else.  Thank goodness for quick and easy meals that still make dinner seem like a special time of day.

In between all of the bread and the cake that we have been eating lately, I thought we needed to have at least one meal that lacks a substantial carb load. Thai Lettuce Wraps always satisfy on many levels. The combo of sweet, salty, and spicy is so completely delectable that it distracts from the fact that there is no bed of rice or noodles (of course you can add those if you choose).  They are super quick and budget friendly.  Let us not forget that they are also fun to eat!


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Chicken Tortilla Soup

May 3, 2011

It is Mexican food week at our house.  No, not really because of Cinco de Mayo.  The truth is we just really like to eat just about anything Mexican- traditional or inspired.  We have been eating carnitas, homemade refried beans, chorizo empanadas, and now for the third time this month, Chicken Tortilla Soup.

This recipe comes from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday.  If you have not checked out this book, you should.  It is definitely one of our favorites.  We happened across it in the kitchen of a house we rented in Nayarit, Mexico years ago.  My husband and I both loved it, and the meals we created from it so much, that we both surprised the other with a copy of it for Christmas that year.  Oops.

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Fava Leaf Pesto

April 29, 2011

Each winter we grow favas, more for their ability to fix nitrogen into our garden beds, than to eat.  We usually have one meal involving the fava beans and then till the plants into the soil or add them to our compost.  If you read Sunset magazine, you may have noticed that they have featured fava leaf recipes in the past few issues. I had no idea you could eat the leaves!  Actually the leaves are quite delicious and since our plants are four feet tall, there are plenty of them to eat!

The other day, my kids and I set off to the garden, basket and scissors in hand, to pick some fava beans and leaves.  Our mission was to make pesto.  Pesto is one of my their favorite foods.  They love to eat it, but even more so, they love to make it with me.  They are old enough now that  their “help”  actually is help, but not so old that they do not want to help anymore.  We collected a basket of fava leaves and as many beans as we could (ours are still a little on the small side).   The kids then went to work happily shelling the beans, as I picked the leaves from the stem.  Together we pureed the leaves with garlic, walnuts, and parmesan with the kids taking turns pressing the buttons on the food processor.  The munchkins also had the job of quality control, testing out the pesto on a toasted slice of bread.

Fava Leaf Pesto has a bright spinachy flavor with hints of artichoke.  The intense green color is superb! I tossed it with some hot linguine and topped the bowl with a scattering of blanched baby fava beans and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.  My son announced, “I’m definitely having more.  I could eat this forever!” Not a bad endorsement.  If you do not not have a crop of favas in your backyard, check the farmers’ market.  We will definitely make this pesto again!

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Sesame Ginger Meatballs

April 16, 2011

The best weeknight meals are those that are simple to prepare, nutritious, and are greeted with delight by the hungry munchkins at the table.  By the time the kids and I get home, everyone is tired and hungry.  When I am really tight on time, I start the rice cooker in the morning before I go to work.  When I return home the rice is ready and all I have to do is whip up something to serve on top.  These Asian-inspired meatballs are a great alternative to our regular stir fries.  A bonus, my kids love meatballs and broccoli!  They squealed with delight the last time I served this :)

Ginger Sesame Meatballs are very easy to make and super tasty!  Mix up the pork with garlic, ginger, soy and other flavors, form the meatballs and cook.  I serve them with brown rice and broccoli or another seasonal vegetable.  A little terriyaki sauce on top and some sambal oeleck on the side adds another dimension of flavor and color.

These meatballs are really good!  Don’t let the photo fool you.  The truth is, it is very difficult to take a good picture of a meatball!

Ginger Sesame Meatballs

adapted from Cooking Light

serves 4

1 pound ground pork

1/2 cup panko

1 egg

1 tablespoon ginger, grated

1/4 cup green onion, minced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon chile paste (sambal oeleck)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying)

sesame seeds for garnish

Terriyaki Sauce  (optional)

Mix all ingredients except for vegetable oil and terriyaki sauce in a bowl.  Form meat into balls.  I like to make large meatballs for this dinner.  You could easily make smaller ones if you prefer or if you are making these for an appetizer.

Preheat oven 400 degrees.

Heat cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Coat pan with vegetable oil.  Fry meatballs in pan, turning so that each side is evenly brown, but meat is not cooked through.   Transfer the pan to the oven (or put meatballs on a baking tray if your pan is not big enough).  Bake for 10 minutes or until the center of the meatball reaches 160 degrees.  Serve hot with rice and veggies.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Ginger Sesame Meatballs

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Chicken Satay

Our garden harvest is in a bit of a lull these days.  The profusion of kale and broccoli that feed us through the winter is done.  While artichokes are beginning to  grace our table, the peas and fresh greens of spring have not quite matured.  The herbs however, jubilant in the rain-chasing sun, are thriving!  We have piles of oregano, mint, parsley, and chives.  I love adding combinations of them to just about any dish.

Lentil Bulgur Salad with Feta and Mint  is similar to a tabouli, though heartier.  The lentils and bulgur combine to form a complete protein.  It is incredibly nourishing and satisfying.  The mint, parsley, and lemon add bright flavors and beautiful color.  The feta contributes a creamy, tangy element.  In summertime, I would make this dish with fresh tomatoes.  In springtime, why ruin a perfectly seasonal salad with mediocre tomatoes?  I used up some dried tomatoes from last summer, but you could easily skip them altogether as well.  Make this dish ahead for a nice light dinner or bring it along to a picnic or potluck.  It travels well.

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