My Favorite Guacamole

Last week the kids and I followed a very dusty dirt road for what felt like a very long time to get to Umtanum Creek Falls. The description online I found for the hike said it was an easy 3.5-mile hike roundtrip with views of a waterfall. What we didn’t know is that we could have driven to Ellensburg by way of the highway and simply taken the dirt road an easy five(ish) miles to our destination but we went the long way from Selah winding up the river canyon on the far west side, driving past ranches and fields and into a forest I had never seen before.

Unfortunately, the trail was dry, steep, full of snakes and where it wasn’t dry and steep it was stinky with stagnant water and very muddy. We ran from a swarm of bees we kicked up and Scarlet, my five-year-old daughter, slipped on a rock and fell straight into a giant muddy bog. We did see the waterfall though and the kids ran along the trail with friends, scrambling over logs and marveling at butterflies, grasshoppers and tiny little frogs they found along the stream.

We stopped for ice cream in Ellensburg on our way home and decided that while the hike itself was a bit of a bust, we were still happy we went.  It’s always good to go on an adventure, even when it involves bees, snakes and mud.

We also concluded that chips and guacamole, ice cold sprites and a margarita for mom was in order as soon as we got home. We were hot, tired and dirty; but nothing some guacamole couldn’t fix.

And lucky for us, I’ve got a killer guacamole recipe. I’m a little bit of a purist in that personally, I don’t prefer onions or tomatoes in my guacamole. I do however like big bright flavor and I get that from a big handful of cilantro, the heat of a jalapeno, fresh chives and lots of lime and lemon juice. A generous sprinkle of coarse se salt at the end gives the dip a little crunch and texture and balances out the flavors. If you like a little texture to your guacamole with onions or tomatoes, then use this recipe as a starting point and add what you like to make it perfect for you. But don’t skip the lemon juice, that’s the secret ingredient.

Guacamole

• 4 ripe avocados

• 1/3 cup cilantro, minced

• 3 tablespoons chives, minced

• 1-2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Juice of 2 limes, or to taste

• ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

• Pinch of ground black pepper

In a bowl, scoop out the flesh of the avocados. Add the cilantro, chives and jalapenos. Use a fork to mash down the avocados and combine the ingredients. Add the lemon juice and lime juice and a pinch of salt. Stir again until the guacamole is smooth and well-combined. Garnish with coarse sea salt and black pepper. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

When summer heats up, the last thing anyone wants to do is turn on the oven. So let’s not. There’s plenty of delicious food to make without ever going near the oven.

This avocado cilantro sauce is my new go-to dressing for everything. And when I say everything, I really mean everything. I use it to make pasta salad with fresh corn, peppers, onions and feta cheese. We use it as a marinade and then later drizzle it on grilled chicken and flank steak, I even used it as a dip for quesadillas for my kids.

The sauce is an easy salad dressing and a little extra olive oil thins it into a nice vinaigrette. Just load up a bowl with some rotisserie chicken, greens, veggies, a hard-boiled egg, sliced avocado and a hearty drizzle of this dressing and you have an awesome cobb salad. Bright and fresh with a touch of heat and acidity; this avocado cilantro sauce is exactly what you need to make it through the dog days of summer.

I typically make a big batch of sauce at the beginning of the week and store it in my fridge in an air-tight container for at least a couple of days. I use it as needed and try and always make sure to have the ingredients on hand to make more when I run out.

Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 1 small walla walla sweet onion

• 2 cups tightly packed cilantro leaves (about two bunches)

• 2 cloves garlic, peeled

• 1 jalapeno, seeded

• ½ cup olive oil

• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

• 1 avocado

• Juice of 2 limes

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

Give the onion, garlic and jalapeno a rough chop. In a food processor, combine the onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and avocado. Pulse the ingredients a few times so they begin to break down. Add the red wine vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper. Turn the food processor back on and while it runs, slowly pour the olive oil in until the ingredients are well-combined, and you get to your desired consistency. I like my sauce on the thinner side, so I use the full half cup of oil but if you like a thicker sauce you can use less.

I’ve tried to grow corn in my garden for years now but somehow every year the bugs win and I am left with a couple ears of sad half-eaten corn. This year, I threw in the towel, corn is four for a dollar at my favorite fruit stand and I’ve never once found a bug. Problem solved.

I needed an easy side dish to go with grilled burgers and this recipe for a riff on street corn ended up being a family favorite. If you don’t feel like grilling your corn on the barbecue, you can always boil the corn cobs in a big pot of salted water for a couple minutes.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 6 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned

• 2 tablespoons butter, melted

• Avocado cilantro sauce

• 2 tablespoons Cotija cheese, crumbled

• Cilantro leaves

• Salt and pepper

Lightly brush corn with melted butter. Over medium heat, grill corn on the barbecue until the corn is lightly charred on all sides. Remove from heat immediately.

On a tray lined with parchment paper, drizzle or generously brush corn with avocado cilantro sauce. Sprinkle the corn with cotija cheese, cilantro leaves and a dash of salt and pepper.

The Best Summer Salads

It’s hot this week. And I don’t know about you but when it gets hot like this, the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven or even the barbecue. I want meals to be simple and fresh. And as much as I would like to eat ice cream for every meal, I grudgingly accept that’s probably not the healthiest choice, even on the hottest days.

This week I’ve got three salads to share with you. These are my go-to summer salads. Chances are if you invite me to a barbecue at your house I’ll show up with one of these recipes. All three salads are light and delicious. They use the best of the produce that’s available locally right now and chances are, you probably have almost all the ingredients at your house right now.

The fresh corn salad is a crunchy, slightly sweet salad that just gets better and better the longer it sits. Use this recipe as a guide but make it your own. The watermelon feta salad is one of my favorites. I make a riff on this recipe probably once a week and even my kids have started eating it. I love to swap the fresh red onion for pickled red onions if I happen to have a batch in my refrigerator. And finally, the cucumber salad is one of my husband’s favorites. I keep a batch in the fridge for him and he snacks on it all week. It’s cold and refreshing and easy to throw together in just a couple minutes.

Fresh Corn Salad

• 6 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cob

• 1 red pepper, diced

• ½ walla walla onion, diced

• ¼ cup fresh basil, minced

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

• Salt and pepper to taste

Shuck the corn and using a sharp knife, cut the corn from the cob. No need to cook the corn, if you buy it at the farm stand it’s so fresh and sweet, it doesn’t need to be cooked. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients, stirring well. Leave on the counter or cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to intensify. This salad tastes best when made a few hours ahead of time. Cherry tomatoes are an easy swap for the red pepper and a sprinkle of feta cheese is delicious with this salad.

Watermelon Feta Salad

• 3 cups seedless watermelon, diced into bite size pieces

• 8 cups spring greens or arugula

• ½ cup crumbled feta

• ¼ red onion, sliced thinly

• 2 tablespoons fresh mint

• Juice and zest of two limes

• ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

• ½ cup olive oil

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl layer the watermelon, feta and red onion over the greens. In a separate bowl combine the lime juice, zest, vinegar and olive oil. Dress the salad, sprinkle with fresh mint and salt and pepper. Serve immediately. I’ve made this salad many many times and sometimes I add avocado and crumbled bacon as well. Adding fresh basil along with the mint and swapping the feta for goat cheese is lovely too.

Quick Cucumber Salad

• 2 english cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices

• ½ yellow bell pepper, diced

• ½ red onion, diced

• ½ cup rice wine vinegar

• 1-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

• Dash of red pepper flakes

• Salt and pepper

In a bowl toss the cucumbers, bell pepper and red onion together. Pour the vinegar over the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add the toasted sesame oil and gently mix the vegetables with a spoon. The oil has a very strong flavor and can quickly overpower the dish. Consider adding the oil a teaspoon to get the flavor just right for your taste buds.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

Last week I rallied my motley crew of three capable, but less than enthusiastic, kids and we headed to Sloop Blueberry Farm out in Naches. There’s a few things to know about me, and one of them is: I’m serious about blueberry picking. I’ve picked blueberries in 90 degree weather and 9 months pregnant, I’ve picked blueberries at 6 in the morning, I’ve picked blueberries with a 1-week-old infant. I don’t mess around. My goal is to stuff enough blueberries in my freezer for the entire year. It never quite happens, but every year I try.

I promised the person who picked the most blueberries (fully expecting it to be me) got to pick the ice cream treat on the way home. Well, my two boys ‘teamed’ up and they picked 25 pounds of blueberries, leaving my daughter and I in the dust with just 23 pounds. They gleefully announced to everyone within a one-acre radius we were headed to Dairy Queen for giant blizzards.

Before you think we were toiling away for hours, we picked almost 49 pounds of blueberries in under two hours. Blueberries grow in clumps, almost like grapes and picking them is literally the easiest thing you can do. The berries practically fall into your bucket as you gently pull the fruit from the stems. I want to go out and pick some more but I’m not sure I have the room in my freezer. To preserve my berries, I filled my clean kitchen sink with ice cold water and dumped the berries in. I laid out clean towels on my kitchen counter and using a colander, scooped the berries out of the water after a minute or two. I allowed the berries to dry on the towels and then stored them in gallon-size freezer bags. At just $1.75 per pound, I have enough berries for pancakes, smoothies, treats and snacking to last months. If you’re local, and want to find a u-pick farm near you, go to www.farmfreshfun.com for a list of farms and what’s in season.

These blueberry crumb bars are the perfect way to use blueberries. Whether you pick them yourself or buy a container at the grocery store, nothing says summer like this sweet, fruity dessert. The crust is basically a lightly sweetened shortbread cookie with a hint of lemon zest. The filling is just blueberries with a bit of corn starch to thicken the juices and the crumb on top is the same as the crust, just crumbled over the blueberries. I found this recipe on a website called smittenkitchen.com years ago and it’s one I go back to every summer once blueberries are in season. The original recipe calls for a 9×13 pan but I prefer to use a 9×9 square pan for a thicker crust. Whichever size pan you use, you can’t go wrong.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

·         1 cup granulated sugar

·         1 teaspoon baking powder

·         3 cups all-purpose flour

·         ¼ teaspoon salt

·         Zest of one lemon

·         1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

·         1 large egg

·         4 cups blueberries

·         Juice of 1 lemon

·         4 teaspoons cornstarch

·         ½ cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9×9 pan with parchment paper.

In a bowl, stir together sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly, kind of like a shortcake or biscuit dough where the butter pieces are the size of a pea. Pat a little over half the mixture into the bottom of the pan, forming an even layer.

In another bowl, mix the blueberries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice gently together. Layer the blueberry mixture over the crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the blueberry layer.

Bake in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes until the top is lightly brown and the juices are bubbling. The smaller pan will require closer to 60 minutes, the larger 9×13 pan will take closer to 45 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Store extras in the refrigerator.

 

Puff Pastry with Havarti, Prosciutto and Asparagus

I am officially the mom of big kids. My youngest ‘graduated’ from preschool last week and will attend kindergarten with her brothers at their elementary school in the fall. To say she is excited and ready would be an understatement.

For seven straight years I’ve had at least one preschooler. Most of that time I was also holding a grumpy toddler or wrangling an infant car seat while also attempting to get my preschooler to school. I was the mom with the spilled coffee and spit up on her shirt, just trying to make it through the day hour by hour. Those were some wild years and at times I thought they would never end.

And now suddenly here we are. On to the next season of life. It seems like all those hard and beautiful days were over in the blink of an eye. The more seasoned moms in my life constantly remind me that time only speeds up. I believe them.

I am looking forward to summer break, to soaking up time with my three wild and crazy big kids. I won’t think too much about kindergarten but instead try and squeeze every drop of fun out of our days together. I’m sure as the dog-days of summer catch up to us, school and structure won’t seem like such a bad idea.

After preschool graduation we had a little celebration. I whipped up these special puff pastries stuffed with cheese and prosciutto and thin pieces of asparagus. The buttery and flaky pastry with a rich and savory filling was out-of-this-world delicious. Puff pastry can be found in the freezer section of your local grocery store, usually near the frozen desserts. Simply allow the pastry to thaw on the counter or in your refrigerator until the dough is very cold but not frozen anymore. We made a big bowl of fruit salad to go along with our pastries but this dish could easily be served for lunch or dinner alongside a simple green salad. Served warm or at room temperature, you can swap the filling for whatever kinds of meat or cheese you prefer. Brie, smoke gouda or sharp cheddar are lovely cheeses to try as well.

 

Puff Pastry with Havarti, Prosciutto and Asparagus

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, cut into 9 squares
  • 4-5 slices Havarti cheese
  • 1 package prosciutto
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lightly roll out the pastry so the dough is even and has no creases. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 9 squares.

Rinse asparagus and pat dry with a paper towel. Select the thinnest spears and cut them in half. Discard the bottom half the spears and set the tops aside.

To make the puff pastries, layer half a slice of cheese, one slice of prosciutto and two to three spears of asparagus diagonally on the puff pastry. Fold two corners over the filling. Place the pastry on the baking sheet and continue until all nine puff pastry squares have been filled.

In a small bowl, whisk an egg with a splash of water until well combined. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the pastries with the egg wash. Sprinkle the pastries with salt and pepper and bake for 25 minutes.

When the pastries are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling and melted, they are finished baking. Allow them to cool on the sheet for a few minutes before serving.

A Darn Good Veggie Sandwich

I know a vegetable sandwich doesn’t exactly scream exciting, but hang in here with me for a moment.  The secret to this sandwich is the absolutely delicious and slightly decadent herbed goat cheese spread you make. Excellent on this sandwich, you can find many other ways to use it. Case in point: the day I put this recipe together, we had steak for dinner. Guess what was out of this world delicious as a dollop on our steaks? Herbed goat cheese spread. It was great on our baked potatoes and my kids used it as a dip for their cucumbers too. I’m telling you, if you don’t want to make the sandwich, no problem, but don’t skip the spread. You’ll find lots of uses for it.

But back to the recipe, personally, I love a good sandwich. And this one checks all the boxes: crunchy, creamy, full of flavor and good for you.  Toasted sourdough bread is liberally spread with herbed goat cheese spread. From there, layers of thinly sliced red bell pepper, shredded carrot, sliced English cucumber, tomato, radish and spinach leaves get piled high. A generous sprinkle of black pepper and the sandwich is complete. Of course, you could swap out vegetables for what you have on hand or are in the mood for. Just slice your vegetables thinly so they are easy to layer. And if you need a little turkey or chicken thrown in to make those vegetables a little more appetizing, by all means, do it.

I signed up with Pacific Northwest Fresh a few weeks ago. Locally owned here in Yakima, each week Pacific Northwest Fresh delivers a box of produce right to your doorstep. During the warmer seasons all the produce featured in the weekly boxes comes from family-owned farms from the Yakima Valley. With the flexibility to sign up week to week as well as choose from three different sized boxes, I look forward to Thursday’s when I know my box will be delivered.

These weekly deliveries are accomplishing two important things for me: the first is that I’m eating more local fruit and vegetables and the second is I’m forced (slightly) out of my comfort zone by having ingredients on hand that I wouldn’t necessarily choose at the grocery store. (Anybody have a good collard greens recipe??) It’s just the nudge I need to experiment with new flavors.

Darn Good Veggie Sandwich

  • 2 slices sourdough or multi-grain bread
  • Spinach
  • English cucumber
  • Carrot
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Radish
  • Tomato
  • 4 ounces plain goat cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves, minced
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

In a medium bowl combine goat cheese, heavy cream, parsley, basil, and lemon zest. Use a spatula to stir ingredients until they are well-incorporated. Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Taste to make sure you like the flavor and add more salt or herbs if desired.

To make the sandwich, start by thinly slicing the vegetables so they are roughly the same thickness. Consider shredding the carrot with a box grater.

Toast the bread. Spread the herbed goat cheese liberally on both sides of the bread. Layer the vegetables on one piece of bread. Sprinkle with black pepper and top with the other slice of bread, goat cheese side down. Press gently down on the sandwich to help combine the ingredients and using a sharp knife, slice the sandwich in half.

Store the remaining goat cheese spread in an air-tight container in the refrigerator to up to 3 days. This recipe will make up to six sandwiches or ingredients can be stored in the refrigerator to make one sandwich at a time.

Pineapple Cucumber Salsa

This time of year, I crave fresh bright flavors. Sweet pineapple and cool crunchy cucumber combine to make the most delicious salsa. I like to make a big batch and store in my refrigerator all week for snacking as well as an easy topping for grilled chicken or fish. One of my favorite and easy dinners is simply marinating wild Alaskan salmon in store-bought teriyaki sauce. Grill on the barbecue for about 10 minutes until just barely cooked through and easily flaked with a fork. Top the salmon with a generous scoop of the pineapple cucumber salsa and serve over rice. Last week I made barbecued pulled pork in my instant pot. The kids ate theirs on a bun but Aaron and I piled our pork with the pineapple cucumber salsa and a few pickled jalapenos. It was so good!

As with just about every recipe I offer, this is one you can tweak and change to meet your preferences. When I first started making this salsa, I used mango, which is yummy and wonderful, and I highly recommend. I often use frozen pineapple in place of fresh, just leaving the frozen fruit out on my counter to thaw. If you don’t have an English cucumber, just use a regular one. Cut the vegetable in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Dice up as called for and you’ll never know the difference. Add more or less jalapeno, depending on how spicy you like your salsa but don’t skip the cilantro and lime zest, that’s what brings all the flavors together

Pineapple Cucumber Salsa

·         2 cups fresh pineapple, diced into ½ inch pieces

·         2 cups English cucumber, diced into ½ inch pieces

·         1 cup red or yellow bell pepper, diced into ½ inch pieces

·         1 large shallot, minced

·         1 jalapeno, seeds removed, minced

·         1 bunch cilantro, minced

·         2 limes, zest and juice

·         Salt and pepper

In a large bowl combine the pineapple, cucumber, bell pepper, shallot and jalapeno. Stir gently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the zest and juice of both limes as well as the cilantro. Stir gently again and garnish with coarse sea salt.

Store leftover salsa in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Serves 6-8 people.