grilled vegetable sandwiches

Summer is ending.  Fall is arriving…slowly, but arriving.  We had a couple of evenings recently where we sat on the patio and enjoyed what had the makings of a cool breeze.  I think we’ve survived another desert summer!  Which is good and bad, because that means summer veggies are going by the wayside.  But it also means fall root veggies, key to many comfort foods and soups, will be in abundant supply.

While flipping through a cookbook looking for something entirely different, I came across these grilled veggie sandwiches which sounded (and looked) delicious.  My usual cooking routine includes incorporating a meatless meal or two each week.  And, since no one has put up too much of a fight, I’m not rocking that boat.  These veggie sandwiches were the perfect meatless meal, and made for a tiny celebration of the end of the season by using the last of the summer veggies.  For those of you in colder climates, the benefits will be two-fold: enjoying the last of summer vegetables and lighting up the grill one more time – before the lid is frozen shut!  Enjoy!!

Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches (recipe courtesy Cooking Light Superfast Suppers, Oxmoor House Publishing)

dressing©zouptonuts

sliced©zouptonuts

marinade©zouptonuts

grillbasket©zouptonuts

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp light mayo
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into eighths
  • 1 (1 lb) eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 sweet onion, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
  • Cooking spray
  • 4 ciabatta rolls, sliced in half
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

Directions:

  • Prepare grill.
  • Combine mayo and minced basil; cover and chill.
  • Combine oil and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl.  Add bell pepper, eggplant, onion, and zucchini to dressing mixture;; toss vegetables to coat.
  • Place bell pepper and eggplant on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill about 6 minutes.  Add onion and zucchini; grill 5 minutes.  Turn vegetables often, baste with dressing, and cook just until tender.  Remove from grill and keep warm.
  • Place bread on grill, cut side down, and grill 2 minutes.  Turn bread, cut side up, and place half of cheese slices on bottom half of bread.  Grill 1 minute or until cheese begins to melt.
  • Spread mayo mixture over top half of bread.  Top bottom half with vegetables, remaining cheese slices, and top half of bread.
  • Serve immediately.

sandwich©zouptonuts***Cook’s Notes:  I used a grill basket for the veggies, which made worries about losing vegetables through the grill grates a non-issue.  Choose a nice, hearty roll.  The ciabattas are great because they hold up well to the moisture from the dressing, grilled veggies, and melted cheese.  Also, I came across this little gem while working on the post; the website for the book Simply in Season, which offers a fruit and vegetable guide for tips on how to choose, store, prepare, and use selected fruits and vegetables.  Good stuff!

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pan-seared steak with red wine-cherry sauce

I’m a huge fan of the sweet cherry – being a native Michigander, and all.  My husband, a native Ohioan, believes Michiganders are willing to put cherries in anything; pies, bread, wine, soda, sausage, you name it.  And, on that count, he’s right.  Frankly, I think it’s just a jealousy thing.  He’s from Ohio who managed to marry a girl from Michigan.  Ohio has….um, well, no cherries.  Their state tree breeds a poisonous nut, for Pete’s sake.  Yeah, it’s totally jealousy.  Not to mention, Michigan is full of peninsulas and Ohio is pretty square.  Not a peninsula to be found.  Hence, I dubbed this syndrome “Peninsula Envy.”  He thinks I’m being funny.  Denial is the first sign.

If you’re married to a Michigan girl who grew up spitting cherry pits into the sand on the front porch of the family cottage, and cherries start to show themselves in grocery stores (sadly, not Michigan cherries) round about Father’s Day, it’s a good bet you’re getting something for dinner with cherries in it.  Fortuitously, the July issue of Cooking Light arrived at the house late last week.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  Cooking Light is one of my all-time favorite cooking magazines.  Everything I’ve cooked from the magazine has been consistently good.  This issue certainly doesn’t disappoint – it’s full of amazing looking dishes, and even gave a shout out to Traverse City, Michigan, home to the Cherry Festival, on The Hungry Traveler 2013 top 10 list of delicious food excursions across America.

The red wine cherry sauce was quite good, especially infused with the star anise.  I had to make two alterations; one discussed below and the other being obvious from the photo.  The recipe called for beef tenderloin steaks, but I sent the man to the store and he came home with filets.  Cooking time quickly adjusted and they came out pink and perfect!  I served the steaks with garlicky almond green beans (poo poo’ed by the kiddo…too much garlic, apparently), which were delicious, and the man of the day gave the meal two thumbs up.  A perfect manly meal for a perfectly wonderful dad.  Enjoy!!

Seared Steaks with Red Wine-Cherry Sauce (recipe courtesy Cooking Light, July 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 4 (4-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 cup sweet cherries (such as Bing), pitted and halved
  • 1 star anise
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine (Merlot or Pinot noir)
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 425°.

2.   Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Sprinkle steaks evenly with salt and pepper. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add steaks; cook 4 minutes. Turn steaks over; bake at 425° for 5 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Remove steaks from pan.

3. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 2 minutes or until just tender, stirring frequently. Add cherries and star anise; cook 1 minute. Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Discard star anise. Stir in butter. Spoon sauce over steaks.

platedfilets©zouptonuts

Cook’s Notes:  I couldn’t get whole star anise in the bulk spice section at my local organic grocer, so I ended up with anise seed, instead.  Very fragrant, but supposedly not as flavorful.  Because it was anise seed, I didn’t add it with the cherries.  Instead, I bound the anise seed in cheese cloth and let it steep in the wine for about 30 minutes ahead of cooking.  The wine really picked up the anise flavor and it definitely flavored the sauce.

creamy italian white bean and spinach soup

I started this meal with something else in mind.  Originally, dinner was supposed to be Spinach and Leek White Bean Soup, since I’d purchased a couple of leeks previously to use in a recipe I never ended up putting together.  So I knew I needed to use them soon or they’d be inedible.  Much to my surprise, they already were inedible.  I’ll just call that a lesson learned in not buying local.

Of course, I discovered the leeks in their apparent state of decay only moments before I planned to slice them and saute them with a couple of cloves of garlic.  Brilliant cook and super-fast thinker that I am…I clicked on the next delicious looking link.  Problem solved!  (Don’t you just love the internet?).  Hence, Creamy Italian White Bean and Spinach Soup.  And, none of my ingredients looked like a 6th grade science experiment.

As for the results?  I sometimes rate the success of a recipe by how much I have left at the end of the meal (unless I’ve cooked for an army), and how long the leftovers sit in the refrigerator.  My second barometer is whether my 6-year-old turned her nose up at it sans any attempt to taste it,  if she  tried it and then turned her nose up, of if she ate.  And by “ate,” I mean, she didn’t just nibble with her front teeth, but actually got some on her real, actual taste buds.  Minus the spinach, she ate, and she said she liked it.  Maybe I was just being manipulated into a subsequent bowl of Dreyer’s Limited Edition Girl Scout Thin Mint ice cream, but….I actually believed her.

There were no leftovers, either, if that tells you anything, so I can’t say how this soup would age.  Based on our first and only eating, I found it flavorful and really delicious.  Given a couple of days to mellow in the refrigerator, I’m pretty sure it would have been spectacular.  Enjoy!

Creamy Italian White Bean and Spinach Soup (recipe courtesy Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 (16 ounce) cans white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preparation:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil. Cook onion and celery in oil for 5 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Add garlic, and cook for 30 seconds, continually stirring. Stir in beans, chicken broth, pepper, thyme and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and then simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. With slotted spoon, remove 2 cups of the bean and vegetable mixture from soup and set aside.
  3. In blender at low-speed, blend remaining soup in small batches until smooth, (it helps to remove the center piece of the blender lid to allow steam to escape.) Once blended pour soup back into stock pot and stir in reserved beans.
  4. Bring to a boil, occasionally stirring. Stir in spinach and cook 1 minute or until spinach is wilted. Stir in lemon juice and remove from heat and serve with fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Servings Per Recipe: 4

Nutrition Info per serving:

  • Calories: 245
  • Total Fat: 4.9g
  • Cholesterol2mg
  • Sodium1014mg
  • Total Carbs38.1g
  • Dietary Fiber11.2g
  • Protein12g

***Kitchen Notes:  The original recipe calls for removing some of the bean and veggie mixture and blending it to create the creamier texture.  I didn’t go that far.  Instead, I used my potato masher and gently mashed the beans and veggies in the pan.  That left some of the beans whole, while also creating a thicker, heartier soup.  No need to go overboard, just 10 or 12 times through the pot.  Also, I used fresh thyme.  If you do, remember to use about 4x as much fresh as you would if you’re using dried herbs.  Also, you could turn this into a vegetarian soup by simply swapping out the chicken stock for veggie stock.

roasted cherry tomatoes

I’d say I’m pretty lucky.  I have a 4-year-old who will eat green vegetables; broccoli, peas, edamame.  We’re still working on asparagus and brussels sprouts, but I’m alright with that.  Sometimes, though, I do like to change up my veggie side.  This recipe is a nice alternative when I’ve seen steamed broccoli one too many times in a given week.  It’s quick to put together, especially since I gave up on store-bought fresh herbs and planted some of my own, and delicious.  Just be careful not to over-roast.  The recipe says 20 minutes, but keep an eye on them lest they become overcooked and mushy and unappealing to everyone, not just the 4 year old.

Ingredients

  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, torn if large

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients except the basil in a roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are just bursting. Carefully transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat (or transfer the liquid to a small saucepan) and reduce the liquid until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Toss the tomatoes with the basil. Drizzle some of the thickened balsamic sauce on each serving.

the kitchen is open

I’m not a cook.  In fact, most of my life I managed to avoid cooking for anyone but myself – which means I ate cold cereal for dinner after two hours at the gym…a lot.  I probably kept Kellogg’s afloat with my volume purchases of Special K Red Berries.

So why is a person who, admittedly, could eat nothing but Special K Red Berries and be perfectly content, writing about cooking?  Good question. See, life has a way of shifting gears; the stars align, surprises happen, and next thing you know you’re cooking for other people, including a child!!!!  Your repertoire expands exponentially.  Your confidence in the kitchen soars.  You find you really like cooking.  You find there is something intrinsically satisfying about playing with food and the sensory experiences accompanying a good meal.  Or better, a good dessert!

Whatever happened, I’m having fun with it and enjoying the challenge of preparing dishes made of whole ingredients – foods I know are healthy and delicious.  And, because I’m a compulsive amateur photographer, I love to photograph what I cook.  Zoup to Nuts allows me a spot to keep my recipes organized, post photos and other kitchen tips, and keep a running log of what we’re eating (and, sometimes, what we won’t be eating again).

So, it’s mostly for me.  If anyone happens upon the blog and feels compelled to read, or try a recipe, or comment, well…awesome.  Otherwise, it’ll at least give me a reason to clean up the ever-growing pile of recipes on my desk.

So, welcome!  The kitchen is open.