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Cucumber Grape Salad with a Light Strawberry, Poppy Seed Dressing

Do you ever just need to eat something refreshing? Where each bite is a vibrant explosion of fresh flavor for your tastebuds? Every now and then I start to crave just that. Especially during the annual post-holiday over-eating guilt trip. But, I’m not always that great with the whole self-control thing in between meals, and I’ve never been able to sacrifice taste for fewer calories. Luckily, little beauties like this recipe exist so that I don’t have to.

Whether you’re looking for a yummy snack, or a healthy dessert, this is sure to do the trick.

Cucumber Grape Salad and a Light Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing

 Cucumber Salad with grapes and a Light Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing

recipe adapted from Oh, Sweet Basil

2 cups grapes, we prefer black but red or green should work also
2 cups baby cucumbers, sliced
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved

For the Dressing

1 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup strawberry flavored Greek yogurt
1-2 tsp poppy seeds
salt to taste

Directions

1. In small bowl, combine all of the dressing ingredients and stir until fully incorporated. Season with salt to taste. We used a scant pinch.
2. In another, larger bowl, toss the cucumbers, grapes and tomatoes with a few drizzles of the dressing until every thing is well coated but not so much so that everything’s swimming in the dressing. Chill or serve immediately. If you’re making this for a crowd, it can be made up to a day ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until needed.

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Caprese Grilled Cheese

Caprese Grilled Cheese

Cheese. Cheeeeeeeese. Glorious cheese. Let’s take a moment to reflect on that. A moment of silence for cheese.

Our family loves cheese. In all it’s types, colors, flavors. In all it’s cheesy glory. We might even have a mild case of cheese addiction. Ok, we do, and ‘mild’ is probably an understatement. But, can there really be such a thing as too much cheese? Definitely not.

That being said, we all love a good, crisp, slightly crunchy grilled cheese with an ooey, gooey melty center. You know that part where you cut it in two, or in quarters, and pull out strings of cheese that could stretch forever when you try to take that first bite? Yeah, that’s my favorite part. My kids’, too.

As I’ve grown, you know into a ‘responsible adult’, there are some things from my childhood I’ve never been able to let go of. Despite all the changes of adulthood & parenthood, my love for a grilled cheese has not abated or been diminished. Luckily for me, my kids have inherited that same affinity. However, in an effort to appear grown up when I devour one, I’ve tried very hard to create and make ‘grown up’ grilled cheese sandwiches. I couldn’t leave them behind, but I did have to make sure they, at least some of the time, appeared to evolve with me.

Caprese Grilled Cheese is one of my favorite ‘grown-up’ versions to date. Everything I love about the original, but heartier. The butter, parmesan crust creates the perfect ‘crunch’ when bitten into. This sandwich offers everything a grilled cheese purist would expect, but has the power to convert all new fans with it’s fancy, shmancy new style. What’s the fun in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes too? Here’s the perfect cheesy compromise. Eat like an adult, enjoy it like a kid.

The recipe below is for 2 sandwiches, but it easily doubles, or even triples. So don’t let that hold you back!

Caprese Grilled Cheese

4 Sons 'R' Us: Caprese Grilled Cheese

  • 4 thick slices of french bread
  • 2-3 tomatoes, sliced
  • 6 oz. mozzarella, sliced or shredded
  • 8-10 fresh, large basil leaves
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • balsamic vinegar, optional

Directions

  1. Heat a large skillet to medium heat.
  2. Spread butter on one side of all four slices of bread. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the butter.
  3. Put all four pieces of bread, buttered side down into the skillet.
  4. Lay, or spread, mozzarella on all pieces of bread.
  5. Cover with a lid to keep the heat in and melt the cheese.
  6. Once the cheese is melted, lay the basil and sliced tomatoes on top of the cheese.
  7. If using vinegar, drizzle a tiny bit ( I use 1/2 tbsp) over top of the tomatoes now.
  8. Assemble the sandwiches by putting the tops on.
  9. Enjoy!

4 Sons 'R' Us: Caprese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Homemade Marinara Sauce

There are some things that just can’t be eaten without marinara. They just aren’t satisfying without the addition of its slightly sweet, robust flavor. Mozzarella sticks, toasted ravioli  and pizza quesadillas immediately come to mind. Toss it with some cooked pasta and you have an easy entree. However, not all marinara is made the same and those that are truly delicious and flavorful are often rather pricey, even on sale or in bulk. At one point, to save some extra money in my grocery budget, I tried not buying it, but tomato sauce and pasta sauce were poor substitutions. So I set about finding a recipe that I could make at home for minimal cost. Now, let me introduce you to my homemade marinara that will tantalize your taste buds while leaving your wallet pleasantly plump! The entire recipe, which made 3 batches for our family of 6, cost about $3-4 to make and used things I always keep stocked in my pantry. Oh, and last but not least: it cooks in your crock pot while you sleep. You just set it and forget it. Easy, right?

Homemade Marinara Sauce

  • 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, 28 oz ea
  • 1 can tomato paste, 6 0z
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar*
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper, to taste

*I make my own brown sugar. To make your own brown sugar simply combine 1 cup  granulated sugar with 1 1/2 tbsp molasses and stir until evenly mixed. I give mine a quick spin in my food processor.

Directions

  1. Add all ingredients to your crockpot and stir well.
  2. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or overnight. If your crockpot is not airtight or notoriously dries things out, you may want to add more water as a precaution.
  3. Remove the lid, stir well. Remove the bay leaves, and enjoy! Also, do not be alarmed when your sauce is done if it’s bright red color has become darker and browner. You want this. It lets your know that it’s cooked and that the sugars in the sauce have caramelized.

Making your own marinara sauce is that easy! You can enjoy immediately over your favorite pasta, as a dipping sauce, or store for later use. I canned two jars, and froze the rest. To unfreeze, put it in the refrigerator the night before you intend to use it. Then, when it’s defrosted, just heat and eat.

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