“Pasta” Salad

Hey There!,

I hope y’all are staying cool! This week has been beyond hot here in RVA and I have been doing everything I can to stay cool. The heat in the daytime is unbearable but honestly I don’t mind it so much at night. Hot muggy nights are literally one of my most favorite parts of summer. I love riding through the city at night (especially down Broad Street), blasting music with all of the windows down. The city light, all of the people out and about….I just absolutely love it.

Another favorite part of summer is the food…of course. One of my favorite summer dishes is pasta salad. Pasta salad is the quintessential summer dish. Everybody makes it a little differently but it is a summer mainstay. No cookout or summer gathering is complete without it. Since I am trying to eat healthier and cut back on the carbs, I decided to make this summer favorite with spiraled vegetable noodles instead of with the traditional noodles. Not only are vegetable noodles better for you but they are just so much fun to make. You can make them out of almost any vegetable and they are just so good.

Anyway, I made this pasta salad with vegetable noodles, broccoli, onions Italian dressing and a ton of salad supreme. Now, this is not a “fancy” dish but it is a classic.

Everyone has their own special pasta salad recipe but consider opting for vegetable noodles instead of traditional noodles.

Until, next time……stay cool!

Summer Berry Smash

Summer is in full swing and I can honestly say that I am LOVING it. This year I’ve challenged myself to get out and do more things and enjoy the city. So far I’ve made good on that promise. I’ve been out and about at the farmer’s market, the museum and at the movies. I’ve tried several of the restaurants on my list and I’ve become a coffee shop regular. I’ve found several new local shops that I am going to stop by this weekend and I’ve been loving all of the festivals and pop-up markets around the city. I can honestly say that I’ve been having a great time.

One of the things that I have enjoyed the most this summer is trying some local restaurants. Local restaurants are honestly the best. The food is so much better than large chain restaurants and the menus are always unique.  This summer I’ve particularly enjoyed trying different cocktails at different restaurants. I’m not at drinker AT ALL and I can barely make it through one drink without starting to see double (okay, I’m being dramatic but you get the point) but I just love a good summer cocktail. Since I’m not a drinker, I do like to opt for floral and somewhat fruity drinks or drinks with mild flavors. Last weekend I had several good drinks at Bar Solita (okay, I only had two drinks) and the perfect mojito at Havana 59. After having those drinks I was inspired to come up with a concoction of my own.

Now, since I am not a drinker this recipe doesn’t call for much alcohol at all, however you should feel free to increase the amount of alcohol until your heart is content (just don’t overdo it!). Also, I don’t like super sweet drinks so I opted for flavored sparkling water as opposed to sugary ginger ale or Sprite but you can use whatever you like.

Again, with all of my recipes, they are only meant to be a guide. Always feel free to substitute, add or remove items. Cooking should be less about following directions and more about experimenting and making something you actually want to eat.

Until we chat again, keep enjoying your summer and let me know wich restaurants in RVA have the best cocktails. I am going to add them to my list.

Berry Smash

  • 1 pkg Blackberries                   – 10-20 Basil leaves         – 1 pkg Strawberries                       – 1 Mango
  • 1 Lime                                          – 1 Lemon                           – Mango Nectar                                – Rum
  • Pineapple

Directions:

Dice strawberries and mango and place in a large mason jar. Add in the blackberries, mango pit, quartered lemon and lime and torn basil leaves.

Add in mango nectar and rum (to taste). Let the mixture sit in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to assemble, scoop out desired amount of fruit. Muddle and add in some of the rum and mango nectar mixture. Top with sparking flavored water, ginger ale, ginger beer, or Sprite.

Garnish with a grilled pineapple wedge, strawberry and basil leaves and serve.

*If you want the drinks to be super cold, dice an extra mango into bite sized pieces and freeze. Use these frozen mango pieces as “ice” instead of traditional ice to keep the drinks cold.

Go To Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce

Hey There,

If you follow me on IG then you know that I have been on a health kick. Also, like I mentioned in my site introduction, this summer I am all about eating fresh foods and getting back to basics.  Overall, I want to be healthier and feel lighter and cleaner. One way that I have been doing that is by opting to cook at home more and by skipping as many store-bought ingredients as possible. Recently, I have been making my own tomato sauce. If you have ever read the nutritional label on a tomato sauce jar than you would know that is LOADED with salt and sugar, neither of which are good for you. By making your own sauce, you can control what goes into it and how much of each ingredient is incorporated. Also, when you make your own sauce there is no limit to how you can customize it. You can literally make whatever kind of sauce you want to make.

For today’s recipe, I kept it super simple and just made a chunky vegetable sauce. I had a ton of squash, zucchini and onions left over so I just diced them up and threw them into the sauce. I then seasoned it with a little salt and pepper, crushed red pepper, a spoonful of duck fat, a touch of olive oil, Italian seasoning and few other spices/seasonings. The sauce was perfect and tangy. If you don’t like tangy, you can always add in a dash of sugar. It’s your sauce, add whatever you want.

I ended up using this sauce in my Spaghetti, Spaghetti Squash Recipe which really isn’t a recipe at all. I simply cook a spaghetti squash, add a little ground beef (ground chicken or turkey can be subbed) and top with homemade tomato sauce. If you want to make this dish vegan, skip the ground meat and remove the duck fat in the sauce, easy substitutions!

This sauce will definitely be a staple in my kitchen and I can’t wait to play around with the flavor combos. I don’t think I will ever use jar sauce again.

Until we chat again!

Samantha J.

Basic Recipe:

  • 1 36oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup of diced yellow squash
  • ½ cup of diced zucchini
  • ½ cup of diced red onion
  • 1 tbs. of diced garlic
  • 1 ½ tbs. duck fat (optional)
  • 1 tbs. of olive oil
  • Seasoning To Taste: Salt, Pepper, Crushed Red Pepper, Italian Seasoning, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Sugar etc.

The Grill and I…A Strained Love Affair

Let me start by saying that I don’t hate the grill, I just don’t understand it. I mean, I understand it but I just don’t get how to properly use it. Just like for most of us, to me the grill epitomizes what summer is all about, hot, delicious fun. It’s the star of every cookout. It has the power to take a cookout to the next level or completely destroy it. I mean nothing ruins a cookout faster than burnt food!

There are dozens of different types of grills but I swear by a charcoal grill. EVERYTHING just taste better cooked with a mixture of charcoal and woodchips. I mean NOTHING beats the flavor that is infused into food when cooked over an open flame. Natural flavors are amplified and flavors become much more dimensional.

Now while the grill has the power to transform food, I don’t love cooking on the grill. Grilling is an art/science that I haven’t just yet mastered. I’ve watched tons on YouTube videos and read countless articles but I still manage to have the hardest time working the grill. My top three gripes about grilling are 1) temperature control 2) startup time 3) space management.

When it comes to temperature control, I can never seem to get it right. Now I know that the vents on the bottom of the grill and the on the lid should be used to control the air flow which should in turn feed or squelch the flame but I can’t seem to get the combination right. No matter what I do, I’m never able to regulate the temperature. If fact, it seems that when I want to cool off the grill I make it hotter and when I want it flaming hot, it’s cool.

Secondly, the start-up time is a huge challenge for me. Often I’ll marinate meats and vegetables overnight with the hopes of throwing them on the grill soon after I get home from work however, I never seem to get the grill started in a decent time frame. Often times it takes me 1+ hours to get the grill really going and by then it’s dark outside and I am over it. I know that I am doing something wrong but I just don’t know what it is. I so desperately want to be able to start the grill and be ready to go within 20 to 40 mins.

Finally, space management is a huge challenge for me when cooking on the grill. I guess this goes back to temperature management but when I have several items on the grill (hotdogs, kabobs, vegetables, fish) I find it hard to situate everything onto the grill in a way that allows all of the food to cook at the same time at the proper temperature. I typically use indirect heat on one side of the grill and direct heat on the other. I put the quicker cooking items on the indurect heat side and those that require longer cook time go on the direct heat side. It always seems that the even though the food is in its respective zone, it hardly if ever cooks properly. Maybe I am overcrowding the grill or maybe it is a temperature management issue. Whatever it is, it is most annoying.

I would love to be able to fire up the grill, throw on some good food, have it cook properly and within a decent time frame. If anyone out there has any suggestions or can point in the direction of fool-proof grilling tips then let me know. I would most appreciate it! If you follow me on IG then you would know that I un-expectantly did some grilling on Memorial Day.  I brought kabobs to the cookout and was tasked with cooking them. Fortunately, I was give the gas grill to cook on. Now, while I prefer charcoal, since I was cooking for people and everyone wanted to eat relatively soon, it was best that I used the gas grill (less room from disaster). Honestly, the experience wasn’t that bad.  I had a few flare-ups but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle. I’ll continue to work on my grilling technique, you all continue to enjoy summer!

Until we chat again!

Samantha J.

Fresh, Fattoush

Hey There,

I’ve been spending all week rehabbing by diet since last weekend’s outing. Now, that I’ve spent the last five days eating relatively healthy, I’m ready to cut up again but before I do, I want to share with you all the last recipe I made from Persiana. This recipe is super simple, fresh and easy. It honestly tastes like summer. Traditionally, the salad has romaine in it, but because of the scarcity of romaine, I opted for arugula. Also, I prefer arugula over romaine any day especially when the salad calls for a lemony, citrus dressing.

This is a great example of using a recipe as a launching pad. When you are making something as simple as a salad you can definitely add and subtract anything you want to make the salad yours.

Again, be sure to check out this book. Preferably, pick up a copy from your local library. I’ve said it before but renting cookbooks from your local library is a great way to start exploring different foods. Also, it’s just always a great idea to visit and USE your local library, after all, your tax dollars pay for it! I feel like I get smarter the minute I walk to my local library….LOL.

Anyway, check out this recipe and if you decide to make it, let me know how it turns out!

See ya Monday!

~Samantha J.