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This week my friend from grad school, Rachel, came to visit us from Cleveland.  Rachel can be described as an “earthy” lady who has an appreciation for fresh, healthy eats, as well as a passion for food, cooking, baking and eating in general.  As I was planning our meals and activities, I was inspired to incorporate some of the fresh, local produce that’s been popping up as we get further into the spring season.

For instance, I recently came across some organic strawberries at Publix that rocked my world.  One of my favorite simple pleasures in life is the taste of fresh, sweet strawberries in the spring, especially when added to milk and cheerios at breakfast.  Mmmm.  I know that, once strawberries are sweet enough for this meal to occur, warm weather is on its way!  Fresh fruit also gives me excuse to bust out the pitcher Dr. Matthews got me which has a core in the middle in which to add fruit:

Strawberry basil water

 

I found a ton of ideas for flavored water here, my favorite of which include watermelon mint and strawberry basil (featured above).  This is one of those odd combos which I wasn’t totally convinced would be awesome, but it was awesome.

For Rachel’s first night, I whipped up one of my favorite dishes, which incorporates lemons and asparagus (part of our fresh produce theme) and the ever-scrumptious goat cheese:

Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Lemon Pasta

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spiral-shaped pasta
  • 1 pound slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon plus more for garnish (I can rarely find fresh tarragon that hasn’t gone bad already, plus it’s slightly pricey, so I usually omit it.  It adds a nice flavor, though – It’s flavor is a combination of mint, licorice, pine, and pepper.)
  • 1 5- to 5 1/2-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese (the pre-crumbled stuff will not melt as well) (I use 6oz or more)
  • Fresh lemon juice to taste
  • Plenty of salt and pepper

Cook your pasta in a large pot of well-salted water until it is almost tender, or about three minutes shy of what the package suggests. Add asparagus and cook until firm-tender, another two to three minutes. Drain both pasta and asparagus together, reserving one cup of pasta water.

Meanwhile, combine olive oil, lemon peel, tarragon and cheese in a large bowl, breaking up the goat cheese as you put it in. Add hot pasta and asparagus to bowl, along with a couple slashes of the pasta water. Toss until smoothly combined, adding more pasta water if needed. Season generously with salt and pepper; add lemon juice to taste.

Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Lemon Pasta

One of our first activities during Rachel’s visit was to have lunch and pick up fresh organic veggies at Stono Market and Tomato Shed Cafe in Johns Island, SC.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and our lunch was DElicious.  We had the Wadmalaw Island BBQ plate (slow roasted pulled pork smothered in an award winning sweet and savory mustard based BBQ sauce) with sides of mac n cheese (some of the best I’ve ever had, hands down), corn bread, citrus bits & candied pecans over mixed greens with citrus vinaigrette, tomato pie (tomatoes, basil, cheese and mayo on a pie crust – I don’t love mayo, or, frankly, cooked whole tomatoes, but nonetheless this dish was delicious!) and grits.  The grits were sub-par to me and I had to make some cheesy grits for Rachel back at home so she knew what grits are really all about, but overall this was an excellent dining experience.

From the market, we got some more delicious, bright red strawberries, red bell peppers, zucchini, squash and onion.  I also picked up some quality angus sirloin filet from Harris Teeter to add with the veggies in a stir fry.  I adapted this recipe from this website:

Steak and Veggie Stir Fry

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (could have used more, in my opinion)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder (I would normally add or substitute fresh garlic, but was feeling lazy and did not.  I do think the additional garlic flavor would have been a nice compliment)
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 C cold water
  • 1/4 C soy sauce
  • 1 lb beef top sirloin steak, cut into strips
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I think I would have preferred canola, as the flavor of the vegetable oil seemed to give it more of a fried food feel)
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into strips
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 yellow squash, halved and sliced
  • whatever other stir fry veggies you prefer

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the first eight ingredients until smooth; set aside.
  2. In a skillet or wok, stir-fry steak in oil for 3-5 minutes (we like our meat medium rare, so I just did a couple minutes). Add red peppers, onions and soy sauce mixture; cover and cook for 3 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and squash; cover and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Serve over rice. Yield: 4 servings.

I tend to err on the side of under-done, since we prefer our veggies more crisp than soggy.  I haven’t made stir fry that often, so I actually cooked this longer than I wish I had (hence the slightly overdone look of the squash and lack of pink or red in the steak).  You can adjust the cook times to fit your preferences.

Steak and veggie stir fry

 

We sprinkled some fresh basil on top since I happened to have some on hand and really enjoyed that addition!

I debated quite a bit on what dessert to whip up.  I have a lemon and blueberry bar recipe that’s to die for, and even considered venturing into the scary world of scone-making for breakfast (scary in that I’m not a natural born baker and they seem complicated to make, and to make well).  In the end, I decided to try something new and am glad I did!  This recipe was a hit with Rachel, Dr. Matthews and even my picky sweet tooth:

Pretty Peach Cake with Pineapple Frosting

Ingredients
  • 1 (16.25 oz) package white cake mix
  • (21 oz) can Lucky Leaf Premium Peach Pie Filling (I didn’t see this brand so bought whatever they had)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (3.4 oz) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 16 oz can crushed pineapple in juice
  • 8 oz whipped topping

 

Directions
  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • With fork, mix together cake mix, Peach Pie Filling and eggs. Gently add sour cream.
  • Spread batter into a greased 9×13-inch baking pan.
  • Bake 30-35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.
  • Cool completely. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Mix together cream cheese, instant pudding mix, and crushed pineapple with juice.
  • Gently fold whipped topping into cream cheese mixture. Spoon a dollop of cream cheese mixture onto each serving.

I wasn’t sure whether to make the topping ahead of time or not.  In the end, I made it right before serving, but it stayed fine in the fridge after and I added it it individually to each slice we had thereafter.  We enjoyed it with the addition of shredded coconut, which I think would also be good toasted.

Pretty peach cake with pineapple frosting

 

Rachel and I even added some of those amazing strawberries on one of our many helpings 🙂

 

This cake was our go-to for breakfast, as well as dessert.  The flavors complimented one another wonderfully and the cake and frosting were light and moist but rich with flavor.

In closing, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” masterpiece, I present to you the inspiration for the title of this post:

 

 

 

 

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