I spent a precious 27 hours in my most favorite of places, my lake home in Western Wisconsin, taking just a short window of time to draw away from the battlements and the never-ending stream of life and gaze out instead over a body of water. The ebb and flow of the wind, the constantly changing surface of the lake seems to calm my ever-present rumination on life and ease the stress. I love the lake and the feel of this place, listening to the profound quiet of mid-week, early season lake life before the docks go in, the boats come out, where early mornings feel like a gift, sipping coffee on the screen porch while the birds sing and chatter.
It isn’t much, I admit. This spread, or dip or whatever you wish to call it was a lightning bolt of inspiration one night when I was craving something different to put on our favorite grilled dinner item- a loaf of pillowy ciabatta bread stuffed with an assortment of grilled vegetables.
Sweet corn is in that stage of ripeness and availability right now that finds it everywhere you turn, and we’re consuming it several times a week, as well it should be. We’re so blessed in Minnesota to have an abundant crop of the good stuff, ready on road side stands, in the Farmers Market and a few select amazing Minnesota grown varieties in the local grocers as well. Sweet corn that bursts when you bite it, needing little besides a drizzle of butter and salt to make it wonderful. Have you tried mashed avocado on sweet corn? You must. It’s simply divine. And this creamy, slightly tart-sweet spread also lends itself highly to corn, hot from the grill or bubbling stock pot of water.
Beyond the goat cheese and sweet corn kernels, stripped from the cob, you could do any additions to this, with endless possibility. Fresh herbs are a must; I used lemon thyme, oregano and parsley (my basil is overgrown and bitter from the heat- big sad eyes here) but if you have good basil, by all means, use it in this spread. Add a pinch of sugar to balance the tart; combine some Southwestern flavors like cumin, lime juice and zest and chili powder for a big ol’ kick. Add curry powder and lime juice for an altogether different interpretation. Since the sweet corn supply is endless, your variations on this could be as well.
Sweet Corn & Goat Cheese Spread with Fresh Herbs
1 ear sweet corn, cooked and kernels stripped
2 oz soft plain goat cheese
1 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 t. fresh lemon zest
3 T. mixed fresh herbs
Pinch of brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor and process until fully combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if it’s too sweet, or a bit more sugar if too tart.
Just a note on this: I have a tiny little food processor, like a quart sized one and it was perfect for making this spread. In a larger bowl type of processor, you may not have a confined enough space to get it to mix properly. Try it in a regular blender, or in a deep pyrex measuring cup with an immersion blender if you have either of those options. This made about a cup’s worth of spread, but if you want to make more, increase the ingredients accordingly.
It’s been almost a year since we eliminated meat from our eating. I’m ecstatic over the way I’ve felt in the last year; I’ve got more energy even when I have a terrible time sleeping; my belly is superbly happy, and my skin looks so much better. Those pesky hot flashes are only a minor occurrence these days too, and I love that part of it the most.
I love the variety and simplicity of our meals too, the ease at preparing them now that we don’t have to wait for meat to cook, and it’s been wonderful to see Griffin expand the foods he eats and also to see that he’s learning to enjoy meatless meals so much more than I ever expected. I’m really proud of how he’s adapted to the changes; he still gets his meat too, so he has the best of both worlds.
One food item that he’s still on the fence about is greens. Mike and I have come to love greens like chard, beet greens and kale, but Griffin is still wary, only eating them in dishes where other flavors can mask their tastes. He’s trying greens, at least. That’s good enough for me right now. He’s also not a huge fan of gnocchi due to the texture, and that’s too bad all around because this Baked Pizza Gnocchi dish that I created is utterly divine in every way.
Recipes inspire me in the most fascinating way. I can read dozens of them and not have a spark of interest, and yet come across one that stirs my imagination and I’m suddenly inside my head putting ingredients together and dreaming of an outcome. That happened to me recently as I was browsing through my news feed on my phone and came across an article about using chard. One recipe for a Skillet Gnocchi with Chard sounded really delicious, and my creative spark was ignited.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot more about meals with greens in them as I received an entire box of a wide variety of packaged and cleaned greens from Cut N Clean Greens to try out and it was probably the most exciting food stuff that’s landed on my door step because I just LOVE this product. It is so ridiculously easy to use greens with Cut N Clean Greens in your refrigerator. They’ve done all the work for you and the greens are ready to open and cook with. You don’t need to prep them, clean or do anything but enjoy. And for roughly the same price you’d pay for a bunch of greens, you get a great deal more yield and it goes a lot farther. Yet another wonderful thing to love about them.
(disclaimer: I received all the greens for free yet all opinions here are solely mine)
But…. back to this Gnocchi. Very simple and quick, rich with flavor and texture, this gratin came out fragrant, bubbling and with that perfect crunchy top to it. Grab a favorite pizza sauce (whether scratch or homemade) a package of shelf stable gnocchi (or…. knock yourself out and make a batch from scratch) and about a pound of good greens like chard, spinach or beet greens and give yourself about 15 minutes while the oven springs to life and heats up. It’s like pizza but it’s not; it resembles lasagna, but it’s better because it’s easier. The gnocchi become so incredibly soft and tender in the oven and it’s gorgeous enough for a special occasion, classy enough to taste like you really put out some effort.
I’ve noticed lately that when I write out my recipes here that I’m posting all sorts of side notes (in blue!) on what options you might do with your own version of the recipe. I hope this isn’t annoying. Is it? Because, here’s the thing; I don’t have the ego to think that the way I make anything would be exactly how someone else would make it. We all have our own tastes, right? We like different foods, flavors and we all have different methods, ovens that work differently, cookware and utensils that we love (go ahead, use that garlic press if it’s your way) and these recipes that slip through our computer screens in to our minds, making our mouths water, well they might mean something else entirely to another person. If I mention to saute your onions for 10 minutes and you think they should be cooked longer, or shorter, or if you don’t even like onions and don’t want to use them, then by all means, trust those instincts. Make the recipe your own. Learn the ways of your own stove, the cut of your favorite knife, dig through your cupboards and add your own flavor, spice, extra something that you love. This is how cooking should be. I’m thrilled to just be one of the stones you traverse in your own journey in the kitchen.
Baked Pizza Gnocchi with Greens
1 lb. gnocchi
1 15-oz can prepared pizza sauce (I love Muir Glen Organics)
2 small shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-3/4 lb. greens of choice (can be beet greens, spinach, chard or kale or a mix)
1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese (for a richer taste, use ricotta)
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 T. melted butter (i used coconut oil)
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. mixed fresh herbs, like parsley, thyme, basil, oregano
Heat oven to 400°. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Or live a little and rub butter in it.
In a deep skillet with a lid, heat oil of choice and add shallots, cooking for about 5 minutes while stirring over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, stir and cook for a few minutes, then begin adding the greens, a handful at a time and stirring so they begin to absorb some of the heat and oil and start to get a bit of wilt to the leaves. Once all the greens are in the pan and they’ve collapsed and are starting to soften, crumble in the goat cheese and stir to break it down. When it’s pretty well incorporated, add in the pizza sauce and about a half cup of water. (add the water to the can and swish to collect any remaining sauce). Stir the pan well, then bring it to a gentle simmer and cover it. Cook the greens until just tender. The timing will depend on which green you are using. Taste often so they don’t get away from you. When the greens are just tender, stir in the gnocchi, and turn off the heat. I used a mix of beet greens and chard and cooked them for maybe 10 minutes.
Mix the panko crumbs, butter and parmesan cheese together. Scrape the gnocchi in to the baking dish and sprinkle the top with the panko crumbs. Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbly, and the crumbs have browned nicely. Mine took about 20 minutes, and I rotated the dish a few times to brown the top evenly. Once removed from the oven, allow the dish to stand about 10 minutes before serving.
KATE’S NOTES: You can divide the gnocchi between individual ramekins if you want something fancier. But please keep in mind that your baking time will be drastically reduced. I baked a few ramekins, placing them on a baking sheet lest they rise up and bubble over the top. They didn’t. (whew)
You can double this for a crowd, baking it in a 9×13 pan. That’s a lot of greens, so add them patiently to the pan.
Not even five minutes into my Sunday morning hike and already my shoes are soaked from the dew. I have to make a split second decision as I feel cool, wet water seeping through my socks; turn back or keep going. There might be blisters at the end, surely some chafing from my hiking shoes, but it’s a glorious August morning and the sun is glaring down on me. I can’t go back. Ignoring my wet feet, I move on.
I’m in Otter Lake Regional Park and this is my glory place, my church of the great outdoors. Plopped in the middle of White Bear Township, it’s a tiny little park, with a very nice nature center and hiking trails that make you feel like you’re miles from the outer world. It’s where I cross country ski in the winter time, and for the other three seasons, I roam it’s trails and discover more and more every day to love about it. On this particularly beautiful morning, in the high season of summer, I take to the trails, dew and all to seek out something I can’t find among the concrete.
My favorite path is cut short by standing water; it’s unusually low in that area, and during the Spring thaw, the trail is often impassable, but it always dries out. But this summer, with it’s abundant rainfall, it’s a no-mans land. I keep on the path that leads me around the back of the newly constructed natural classroom and head in to the swamp. This trail will lead me to the northwest section of the park where the hardest challenge of my hike lies. In there, the path cuts through a sanctuary of birch and towering oak trees, dipping down sharply, then rising just as fast to offer a heart-pounding, blood racing interval that I love. I can’t even consider going on this trail in the wintertime, on my skis. It’s challenging enough on foot, but I can’t stay away. The majestic oak trees line the path, like sentries that silently watch me pass, breathing deep, as the smaller of the two lakes in the park wink it’s shimmer of blue through the tree line. I try to challenge myself to run hard up a few of these short but steep hills. I’m ignoring my damp shoes.
Coming out on the other end, I’ve broken a sweat and wish I had my water bottle. The sun has rose high enough now to pound on my skin, and the wind swirls around me. It’s not strong enough to keep the flies at bay, and I impatiently swat away at them, mentally reminding myself to bring bug spray the next time I come here. This section of the path, through the heart of the park is high and open. No trees hide the sun out here and as I push on, beads of sweat slip down my temples.
The best part of being out here isn’t the nature. It isn’t hearing the hum of the highway along the western edge of the park, or the sound of the trains in the distance, blasting their whistles as they through the crossing. It isn’t the flash of deer, startled from their morning graze, leaping through the trees with white tails whipping, nor the fox, visible only by it’s bright red bushy tail twisting as it runs. It isn’t the small brown snake that lifts it’s head as I approach, watching me closely. “I’m no threat.” I murmur, slowing down to gaze at it’s tiny eyes. It doesn’t even flinch as I carefully step over it, and turning back as I move on, I see it’s watching me.
It isn’t any of these things, nor the rustle of the grass, or the continual droning hum of the insects. It isn’t the fluttering butterflies that skip along the path ahead of me, all shapes, sizes and colors. It’s isn’t any of it, and it’s all of it. Because out here, with the open skies and clean air, coupled with my footsteps and steady, hard breathing, it’s all of it at once that tames the voices inside, the swirl of life in my head that becomes a cadence of regular disruption. I come out here and it all disappears. My head clears, while the constant motion in it stops and I can breathe, relax, feel my blood pound and just let go. I am in sync with myself on this path, instead of at war with trying to figure out what’s next.
Then the trail dips down to the larger lake, and winds around to the north. It’s really uneven here, and now I am fully aware of my hiking shoe rubbing on my right ankle. The arthritis in my feet is apparent, but it will never stop me; it’s just more noticeable where the path is the least stable. The grass is tall and it tickles my legs. I swat the flies, wipe the sweat and keep going because soon, there will be the boardwalk leading me around the side of the lake, and at the other end is the thickest, densest trees and a hard packed dirt path that will take me back to the place I began. I’m on the last leg and those woods, with the tall maples and cool shadows will feel really, really good after the heat and sunshine. I feel the temperature drop as I enter here, and the slight chill rejuvenates me. Sunlight is dripping through the high tree canopy. And it’s glorious with bird song.
But the mosquitos in here are terrible. I can’t stop, or even slow down. I want to grab a few photographs to chronicle this morning, but I am swarmed with nibblers if I try to catch my breath. My feet feel better, but the rubbing on my ankle is a chronic annoyance. Because it’s cool in here though, the sweat slows down and I don’t have to wipe my face so much. My heart and lungs are on full power now; I’ve been hiking hard for 45 minutes by the time this trail leads me back out to the blacktop path that I started on. The nature center is in sight, and the parking lot, where my car and my water bottle await, is beyond that. My head feels soothed and I take a deep breath, once again. I’m back to the car, stripping off my soaking wet shoes and socks, wiping down my feet with the wipes I keep in my car and toweling off the sweat. My water bottle is half empty already. I stretch out the tension, drop in to a few yoga positions to re-focus and eventually climb in to my car to head home. In less than an hour I hiked nearly 4 miles.
And I’m so hungry now.
At home is waiting the simplest of simple summer salads, perfect for these heady days of heat and sun. The farmers markets are absolutely bursting with a mind-boggling bounty of fresh food and I am crazy in love with sweet corn, fresh tomato, zucchini for the grill, tiny purple eggplants and dark, dark greens. Every meal tastes like sunshine, each bite bursts with flavor. I snip handfuls of herbs from the garden to crush and sprinkle over everything and even after washing my hands I can still smell the thyme, the parsley and basil, the volunteer oregano that sprung up from last years plants.
And this salad…. this salad awaits my gnawing stomach, the hunger driven out of a vigorous hike, deep gulps of clean morning air and the need to still my mind. It’s simple, quick and so delightful; the snap of fresh tomato, fresh zucchini chunks, crunchy corn kernels that still taste like a farm field and lots and lots of tiny thyme leaves. A few scattered pieces of lemony goat cheese makes it complete.
My shoes are drying in the hot sun, outside on the patio and I need a shower. My ankle didn’t blister, thank goodness, and while my body is energized from it’s workout, my mind is at rest. This is a good place to be. Like August, with it’s wellspring of fresh vegetables.
What’s on your summer table these days??
(Notice anything new down below here?? There’s a print button for my recipes now!!)
Herbed Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad
4 ears sweet corn, shucked, cooked and stripped of kernels
4 medium tomatoes, or 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, as ripe as you can find
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 c. fresh chopped herbs, such as basil, thyme, parsley and oregano (use rosemary if you like it)
2 T. good quality olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes to combine flavors. Serve topped with goat cheese, if desired.
My Notes: I used half a pint of purple cherry tomato, and one good sized orange heirloom tomato for my version of this dish. I also diced up a fresh heirloom pepper that I had on hand. I think one of the best parts about this dish is how colorful it can be with the variations available now. As the salad stands, it will release plentiful juices which are delicious if you dip fresh toasted bread into them, then sprinkle a bit of sea salt over before eating.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve been rather shy about mint in my cooking career. Did I have a traumatic experience with mint at some point in my life? The overdose on wintergreen Life Savers that I went through as a child? Why has mint not been forefront in my culinary dishes?
I haven’t an answer, but as of late, I seem to be making up for lost time on the mint appreciation. It’s been all over the place.
I love it muddled in a glass with chilled green tea poured over it. I’ve shredded it into salads and sprinkled it in pilafs. I ate some over sweet melon chunks, sighing in contentment at the contrast in flavors. It’s wonderful mixed with fresh oregano in any corn dish (hint: leftover cooked fresh corn, cut from it’s cobs needs nothing more than fresh oregano, fresh mint, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss it on a salad. You’re welcome)
Mint has been a regular in my fridge as of late and I’m only just beginning to understand the reaches to which this herb can go. A huge thick bunch is about $1.50 at the grocer, and wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag, it lasts for quite some time in my fridge. The last thing I ever thought I would be doing would be eagerly and gleefully searching out recipes that will include mint. Or making them up, as it turned out. Like this Lemon Mint Potato Salad with Green Beans.
I browse hundreds of food sites, recipe sites and food information in any given week. I am always undertaking a study of food in all it’s glory from the amazing array of food blogs both stellar and odd, to the sites that talk food, culture, nutrition and diet. I know that somewhere in my browsing I came across a dish similar to this because it’s the only way I can think that it got into my brain at some point, and the mere action of holding onto a bunch of mint at the grocer made it jump front and center, to the spot where all my creativity pours out. It’s rare that I really smack a home-run the very first time creating a recipe from scratch, but this one worked. On all levels. The crunchy beans, moist potato and superbly tart and lemony dressing, with hints of mint and dijon mustard come together in a lovely symphony of simplistic eating. I was sad when I was full.
Lemon Mint Potato Salad with Green Beans
1# ‘B’ Red potatoes, quartered and steamed to tenderness
1/2# fresh green beans, blanched and shocked to cool
1/2 c. fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
Juice of half a lemon
2 t. lemon zest
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. dijon (or other brown, deli style) mustard
1 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper
Place potato and beans in a medium bowl. In a small measuring cup, whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, mustard, goat cheese and 2 T. of the mint until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It will be very tart and lemony, with a subtle mustard zing. Pour over potato mix and gently stir to coat. Serve room temperature or chill for an hour or more before serving. Top with mint leaves and extra salt and pepper before serving.
The kind folks at Ile De France cheese regularly send me free cheese to try at home, and I am very grateful for their generosity. The goat cheese used in this recipe is one of their offerings, a 10.5 oz chunk that is fresh and flavorful, with a subtle hint of herb and grass and a terrific texture that crumbles easily, melts superbly and whisks smooth in any number of options. It lasts for a good long time wrapped up properly. Thanks so much Ile De France!!
Sometimes, when I frantically yank on my ‘Iron Chef’ hat with dinner staring me in the face, what I pull from my pantry and fridge to make a meal is memorable, but never something I would do again; it worked for the moment but that’s about it.
Not this focaccia. This one will be here to stay.
I’m still loving this book, and legally can possess it without monetary fine for another few weeks before the library politely expects its return so I’m trying to dig in deep and fill more pages with flour and watermarks, but so far I’ve managed to use this focaccia recipe enough that the book falls open to the page with little effort.
I love me a good focaccia.
This particular bread is a wonderful canvas for a wide array of toppings- everyone loves a good sea-salt sprinkled chunk, dipped in a little olive oil touched with fresh ground pepper; you can top a foccacia with grated parmesan cheese and herbs, tomato slices and asiago, red wine soaked mushrooms and rosemary……the list is endless. And unlike some bread recipes, this focaccia has one rise, then you form it in your baking pan, leave it for maybe a half hour to puff up a bit, then bake it. The hardest part, really, is waiting for it to cool enough to slice.