Fresh cucumber salsa

I realized the other day that I have never made salsa before. Mike used to make a delish black bean salsa in the summertime, but since he’s been super busy, tomato duty has fallen to me. So, I dug out a recipe I took from the Boulder farmers market back in 2005 and adapted it to what I had in the kitchen.

I had some tomatoes and a green pepper from our garden and a cucumber from the farmers market, plus a few other things.

The recipe made the freshest, most vibrant, colorful salsa I could have imagined. And it tasted really good, especially when you got a little bit of the marinated tomato juice in the bottom in your bite. I had gotten out my spice blend to add to it, but realized it didn’t even need that. I stuck with a sprinkling of salt and pepper for seasoning, just like I would on a sliced tomato.

Fresh cucumber salsa

4 medium tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a big bowl. That’s it!

Fresh tomato sauce

It’s taken a while for me to get this recipe down, but I think I finally have it. Last night we had this sauce over whole wheat fettucine with some roasted zucchini on the side, and it was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t add any sugar to the tomato sauce, but because I used all garden fresh tomatoes they made it super sweet. And with green peppers and basil also from our backyard it was fresh, fresh, fresh. Love it.

Anyway, I have found some kitchen gadgets that make saucemaking so much easier for me. It’s still a pretty messy and involved process, but it can be simplified.

Top left you have a soft peeler. Even though you are going to blanch the tomatoes to get the skins off, you’re bound to have a few stubborn pieces. This device peels them right off. And if you wanted to save time or dishes to clean by just straight peeling them, this is what you should use.

Top right is a cutting board with a built-in strainer. This is great for cutting tomatoes because you can push the juice and seeds into the strainer instead of watching them run down the sides and onto your cabinets, which always seems to happen to me.

Bottom left, a wire mesh strainer will help you grab your tomatoes out of the water after you blanch them. You can find these really cheap at Asian foods stores.

And finally, a sharp paring knife. Don’t mess around with a dull knife, especially when you’re cutting tomatoes. We did for a long time, until my cousin mentioned that she got a 40 percent discount at Williams Sonoma, and we got this Wusthof beauty.

OK, so onto the recipe. I’m writing it here for 6 tomatoes because that’s what I had ripe from our garden (really 7, but some were small), but you can double, triple, or whatever you need to do for the amount you have. For saucemaking we grow Amish paste tomatoes from Seed Savers because they have lots of flesh and fewer seeds.

Fresh tomato sauce

6 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 green pepper, diced
1/4 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
6 or so basil leaves, cut into ribbons

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Later you can make the sauce in this pot. Meanwhile, cut the stems out of your tomatoes and remove any split, bruised or bad parts.

When your water starts to boil, drop in the tomatoes for about a minute or until you can begin to see this skins loosening. Drop them into an ice bath to cool off.

The skins should peel right off, but if they don’t, just remove them with the soft peeler or a knife.

Next, slice the tomatoes into chunks and remove the seeds. You probably won’t be able to get all of them, but that’s no big deal.

Don’t worry about saving the juice – you’re actually going to try to boil it off in a few minutes anyway.

Dump out your boil water and start heating the oil over medium. Drop in the onion, green pepper and garlic and saute those for a few minutes. A little zucchini might be good here, too. Sometimes we add a hot pepper.

After you’ve seeded all the tomatoes, cut them into half-inch chunks and drop them in with the rest of the veggies. Season with salt and pepper, but hold off on adding the basil until the end.

Here’s the part where it gets a bit tricky. I’m impatient and I always want to take the sauce off before it’s really done. In order to get a thick, rich sauce it’s going to have to simmer for a while. It could be 20 minutes, it could be an hour. Fresh tomatoes are very watery, and that’s no good when you go to pour the sauce over pasta. So let it reduce by about half. This only leaves you with maybe 2 cups of sauce, but a little goes a long way, and it’s so, so good.

I would say mine probably simmered somewhere in the 30-40 minute range. When it’s ready, drop in the basil and serve.

Green fajitas

The green is in reference to the fact that all the veggies I had on hand were green, and I was so excited to use them fresh from the garden that I tossed them all in a pan and made fajitas. I even used lime juice (instead of my standard lemon) to keep with my green theme.

Green fajitas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 zucchini (or half of a whopper, in my case) sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons taco seasoning (mine is a combination of cumin, chili powder and salt)
Juice of one lime
salt and pepper
Flour tortillas
Extra toppings – cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, tomatoes – whatever you like!

Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Toss in the onions and peppers and let them get started.

Add the zucchini, garlic and hot peppers and saute those for another 5-10 minutes until the onions are translucent and the veggies are softened. Season with salt and pepper, and then toss in your spice mixture.

Squeeze in the lime juice and let that cook down for just a minute.

That’s it. Easy peasy. Spoon the filling into warm tortillas and add your favorite toppings. I usually use wheat tortillas, but this time I was craving regular ones so I opted for this healthier sounding kind.

The freshness of veggies straight from the garden or farmers market makes all the difference. All they need is a quick sizzle in the pan and they taste amazing.

Sweet potato fries

I can’t believe I’ve never posted this recipe because I make it all the time. I never ate sweet potatoes as a child, but as an adult I can’t get enough of them. I think I have a thing for orange vegetables. Love carrots, too.

So if you need a side dish for just about anything, these roasted fries have lots of vitamins and just a drizzle of olive oil.

Sweet potato fries

1 extra large or two medium sweet potatoes
2 T. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel your sweet potatoes, then slice them in half lengthwise. My potato was so large I cut the half in half to get 3- to 4-inch long fries.

Make sure your knife is very sharp and you’re very careful when cutting. Though they don’t take any longer to cook, sweet potatoes are hard as a rock when raw.

Also, try to get organic sweet potatoes if you can. I didn’t this time and I can tell a huge difference in the brightness of the color.

Next, slice the potato halves into pieces a little less than a half-inch wide. The end pieces will probably be a little wider and triangular.

For some of the slices you’ll probably have to turn them on their sides and slice them again. Or, just go with thick-cut fries, whatever you like.

Spread them out on a nonstick cookie sheet, drizzle them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss them a little to coat.

Bake for 15 minutes, flip them over, and bake for 15 more minutes.

And speaking of potatoes, look at my Taterpot!

It was a going-away gift, and I think it’s so cute. Soon my little tater guy should be sprouting fresh mint.

Red quinoa salad

I read a lot of food blogs. It’s one of my greatest sources of inspiration, and it means I hardly ever have to crack open a cookbook anymore. If you want a recipe, it’s usually out there somewhere, beautifully photographed and spelled out step-by-step.

But there’s one thing I’ve noticed about all the food blogs I read. You almost can’t buy a healthy recipe. There’s so much butter and heavy cream in these recipes you’d think Paula Deen was masquerading as 20 different food bloggers. It has not been good for my butt these last few months.

So I decided that I would make a better effort to seek out healthier recipes, and try to post more of them here. There’s no reason I can’t challenge myself to cook a little lighter, and make those Pioneer Woman recipes a once-in-a-while treat.

So here’s one of my first efforts. It’s similar to a tabbouleh salad, but I used red quinoa instead of bulgur (which is packed full of protein). I found it at our farmers market, so I’m not sure how difficult it will be for you to find. You can always substitute regular quinoa.

This recipe makes a very potent salad, so dial down the garlic if you like it more mellow.

Red Quinoa Salad

1 cup (uncooked) red quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for cooking veggies
Juice of a large lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cucumber, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
4 scallions, sliced
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Start by rinsing the quinoa. Then boil it, covered, with two cups of water for about 12 minutes, or until the water is evaporated and the little spirals start separating from the grain.

This is optional, but I like to saute the red pepper and green onions in a little olive oil before I toss them in, just to soften them a little.

After those have finished cooking and cooled a little, toss them in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients.

I just grabbed some fresh herbs from the garden – a little basil and thyme. But you can use what you have on hand. Basil and mint is a great combination. Oregano would be good, too.

This tastes even better after it has soaked overnight. Serve it with the hummus I posted yesterday.

Healthy tofu hummus

That probably sounds like something you would never want to make, but I assure you our version of hummus has virtually the same taste and texture as any other hummus. It just uses tofu instead of tahini. Blended up in the food processor you never know the difference.

This is actually Mike’s recipe, and one I only made myself because he was sick in bed the other day. But we eat it so often I felt like I had to post it here.

Healthy tofu hummus

1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 12 oz. package soft tofu, drained
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (roughly the juice of 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

Start by toasting your cumin seeds to bring out the flavor. Just put them in a small skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until they start to darken a little. But be careful not to burn them!

After they’ve cooled down a little, grind them up with a mortar and pestle. This step is optional, as you can also toss them in whole.

In a food processor, puree garlic, chickpeas, tofu, cumin seeds, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of oil until smooth.

Season with salt and pulse a few more times to combine.

When you serve the dip, drizzle a little more olive oil on top. It’s great with pita wedges, crackers or cut veggies. Perfect for lunches or afternoon snacks.

The perfect roasted asparagus

It’s that time of year (and thank God). You can’t resist the little green bundles at the farmers market, even though you ate it last week and probably the week before. Fresh asparagus is everywhere, and I am a huge fan. I think the best way to prepare it is just to throw it in the oven for a little roast. My secret ingredient is a squeeze of lemon juice that gives it just enough tang to make it a little more interesting.

Roasted asparagus

Wash your asparagus and snap off the woody ends (just put a little pressure about 3/4 of the way down the stalk and it will break off naturally). On a baking sheet (I prefer one covered with a Silpat), roll the asparagus in about a tablespoon of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, maybe a tablespoon.

Put the asparagus in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, turning it at the halfway point, or until the stalks are wrinkly and browned but not burnt.

The best baked beans

A few years ago I picked this recipe randomly from the Web site because I wanted to make some baked beans that were actually baked in the oven rather the the stovetop variety I was used to eating.

People loved it. Took second helpings. Told me they were the best beans they’d ever had. So I couldn’t have been happier and I’ve been making this recipe ever since. It’s the perfect picnic, barbecue, potluck dish, and the secret ingredient is… an apple.

I would also say it’s important to use Bush’s beans and K.C. Masterpiece barbecue sauce, but that’s just me.

The best baked beans

Adapted from

1 28-ounce can vegetarian baked beans (yes, you start with baked beans)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 medium onion, chopped
1 apple, not too tart, peeled, cored and diced
teaspoon black pepper

To make it meaty: Add 3 strips of cooked and crumbled bacon after you take the beans out of the oven.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dump your beans into a small glass casserole dish (or double the recipe for a big crowd and go for a 9X13 dish). Mix in the remaining ingredients and bake uncovered for 60-70 minutes until the beans are thickened and bubbly. The apples will cook down and add another dimension of flavor that you can’t necessarily pick out, but you’ll love.

BBQ bean balls

This recipe is from some of our friends in the impromptu vegetarian group we formed here. There was already a group, but they seemed a bit … not like us? I don’t want to be a part of a vegetarian group that takes itself too seriously. I am doing this for my reasons, and I don’t really care why anyone else does it. It just helps to know cool people who also eat this way, in a town that reveres bacon above all else.

Anyway, I heard that this was adapted from Veganomican, a book that’s been on my want list for a long time. But I rarely use the cookbooks I do have, so I’m getting by without it. It kind of fills the need for a meatball like dish that you can put in a crock pot and take to a Superbowl party. Usually I just eat it for dinner with some starchy side.

BBQ Bean Balls

28 ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 T. barbecue sauce, plus 1/3 c. for later
2 T. olive oil plus a little extra for baking
2 cloves garlic minced (I threw in a shallot this time and it was delish, too.)
1/2 c. plain bread crumbs
1/4 c. vital wheat gluten (you’ll find this in the baking section)
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of thyme
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes (how’s that for a measurement?)

I ALWAYS use KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce for this. I’m from Kansas – I pretty much have to. Actually, I just really like it.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mash the beans in a mixing bowl until no whole beans are left. Add remaining ingredients and mix with your hands.

Roll mixture into walnut sized balls and place on a nonstick baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the balls.

Bake for 15 minutes, then flip and bake for 10 minutes more. Remove them from the oven and in a bowl, mix up 1/3 c. barbecue sauce and 1/3 c. water.

Move the balls into a baking dish, pour the barbecue sauce on top, and put them back in to bake for 5-10 minutes.

I’ll be honest — this is not the most attractive dish you’ll ever prepare. But I think you’d be surprised how tasty they are. And I imagine they have significantly less fat than the oily meatballs you usually find in a Crock Pot.

I always end up adding a little more barbecue sauce to my plate, just because they get dry really easily. Or maybe because I just love the sauce.

Beans, zucchini and tomatoes over couscous

This is another one of my go-to weeknight dinners. I got the recipe from a blogger at work, changed it just a little, and have made it over and over again.

Recently I’ve started buying dried beans and then soaking and cooking them myself. Beans are cheap either way, but cooking them yourself does seem to bring more flavor (and perhaps less salt) than using the canned ones. If I have the time I’ll do it, and for this recipe Great Northern beans work great.

Beans, zucchini and tomatoes over couscous

1 large zucchini, partially peeled and diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. dried basil
1/2 t. dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste


1 cup couscous, dry
1 1/2 cups water
pinch of salt

I like to peel a few strips off the zucchini skin, but leave a few for a little color.

In a big skillet saute the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Toss in the zucchini and cook a few minutes more. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs.

Add the remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat about 15 minutes until it’s thickened and bubbly.

For the couscous, bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the couscous. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.