Caprese Sandwich

caprese sandwich

Light and bright, these Caprese sandwiches are perfect for a easy bistro style dinner or lunch. I crave them in summer when it’s too hot to think about standing at the stove or turning on the oven to cook. They come together in minutes thanks to prepared pesto. All you have to do is slice, spread, and stack!

caprese sandwich

Caprese Sandwich

Serves 2

 

4 slices dense bread, such as sourdough or ciabatta

8 oz fresh buffalo mozzarella

1 large beefsteak tomato

2 Tbls prepared pesto

2 Tbls mayo

Handful mixed greens

Balsamic glaze or balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

 

To make, toast the bread until golden brown. In the meantime, combine the pesto and mayo. Slice the tomato and mozzarella into thick slices and season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. When the bread is done, spread the pesto mayo onto each slice to coat. Then stack two slices with the mozzarella, tomatoes, mixed greens, and drizzle with the balsamic glaze. (You can substitute balsamic vinegar but go easy or it will be a wet sandwich!) Top with the remaining two slices of bread. Serve with a simple mixed greens salad or fresh fruit.

caprese sandwich

Needing a heartier meal? Add your favorite deli meats or grilled chicken or steak for super sized caprese sandwich.

Backyard Planters for Spring

backyard planter

When I picked up this sad clearance shelf sweet potato vine last fall, I wouldn’t have bet on it surviving the month, let alone the season. So what I did I do? I took that root bound plant and chopped it into three. Because I’m cheap, and three sad sweet potato vines for $2 sounded a whole lot better than one. Here’s one of the planters this spring.

sweet potato vine

Rock on, sweet potato. Looks like $2 well spent, especially since my goal for transforming our dilapidated overgrown suburban jungle (aka backyard) was zeroscaping. As in I wanted to spend ZERO dollars on yard improvements. The giant palmetto bush in the back was uncovered by clearing out the five foot tall weeds. The pinkish ti plant (and its eighty seven brothers) was relocated from the side of the house. The croton in the foreground was memorialized from my grandfather’s funeral arrangement.

Come spring and the miraculously thriving sweet potato vine inspired me to look for ways to add more color and texture to the backyard. I went to the nursery looking for thrill and fill to add to my sweet potato spill–the trifecta formula for gorgeous containers. (Or so I’ve been told. My containers usually look like “thirsty” and “worse.”) I came home with some 97 cent annuals in yellow and purple. At least this way when they die a slow humid death mid-summer, I won’t regret dipping into the college fund.

To plant, we first added some dirty rocks to the bottom of the pot.

container garden

I pretend these are for improving drainage, but really they are the mistake I call “trying to get rid of the moldy rock mulch in the front beds.” Tip: you can never get rid of rock mulch. It just burrows deeper. It’s like freaking quicksand unto itself. I dug up a few buckets full before giving up and covering the beds with wet cardboard and pine mulch. Relocating those buckets into these containers just meant I didn’t have to figure out how to throw them away.

mulch planter filler

Then, we added mulch mulch as filler. It is way cheaper than soil and will make the pots much lighter. (I know I will end up dragging them around the yard a few dozen times before finding the perfect spots.)

sweet potato container

We added our plants and some soil, then repeated the entire process times the two remaining containers.

planter

Color? Check. Texture? Check. Remembering to water… wish me luck.

Painted Concrete Patio

The past few weeks have been crazy hectic, but at least it’s for a good reason. Rocksteady got offered a great job opportunity in Jacksonville! We are stoked to be moving back to where our love story began, the city of seven bridges. But first, we have to sell our house, find and arrange temporary living, tour and select a preschool, and transport life 1.5 hours north. No biggie. This will our TENTH move together. We’ve got this.

In preparing to list our house, we have taken on a multitude of smallish projects improve the property, including updating the fireplace with mosaic tiles and replacing the half window back door with a full window back door. Of course, as soon as we put in the new glass door, we noticed how crappy the back patio looked.

peeling concrete patio

A peeling, cracked surface practically adjacent to our newly remodeled kitchen and family room was not going to fly. Especially since the reason we wanted a larger window on the door was to enjoy the gorgeous backyard views.

backyard lake

Painting the concrete was an easy and affordable way to clean up the patio. We borrowed concrete etcher from my dad, which helped prepare the pathetic looking patio for paint.

concrete etcher

The concrete etcher was easy to use. Just clean the surface, then scrub the concrete with the etcher. Wait about 10-20 minutes, then spray off the surface to remove the etcher. Once the concrete is dry, you are ready to paint.

painted concrete patios

What a difference just one coat of paint made! The light tan color we chose, Valspur’s “Hopstack,” looks great against the white exterior of the house and next to the green grass. It’s a little darker than it appears in these pictures.

painted patio

For $26 in paint, this project now lets us enjoy the million (or at least hundred) dollar view without the distraction of an eyesore patio. Hopefully, the next homeowner will love it as much as we do.🙂

 

Barbie No Sew Koozie Dress

barbie no sew koozie dress

When my daughter needed new outfits for her Barbies (because heaven forbid her dolls just trade outfits with each other), I looked around the house for some inspiration. I wanted a no sew dress that was quick to make but also easy enough for The Bear to dress the dolls herself. That eliminated any sort of outfit that required tying.

First, we made a sock dress.

barbie sock dress

It was super simple to make—just cut off the top of a toddler sized sock. But it seriously lacks pizzazz. I mean, Fashion Barbie has low lights. If I wouldn’t be caught dead in a knit tube dress, there’s no way she’s wearing it.

In the kitchen, I struck gold. I found a zebra striped beer koozie. It was just one of the zillion koozies junking up the drawer. Obviously, we attend a lot of weddings. Right…

The koozie already had two slits on either sides that I figured would work as the arm holes, so all we needed was the neck cutout. I used a quarter to measure as I cut.

koozie no sew barbie dress

And voila! A little avant garde, don’t you think?

no sew koozie barbie dress

It was so chic and easy, we ended up making two.

barbie no sew koozie dress

What are your no sew solutions?

The Perfect Veggie Burger Formula

veggie burger green bean fries

Warning: these veggie burgers are killer. Adapted from the recipe used at a restaurant I used to work for, they are NOT your one note burger. They have texture, complex flavors, and just the right amount of moisture. My favorite part is how easily you can swap out ingredients and get the same results—an absolutely delicious burger. I’ve broken the recipe down into a formula of ingredients types. That way, you can tweak the burgers with your favorite flavors for endless combinations of drool worthy meatless Mondays.

The Base

I use grains and beans as the base of these burgers. For the grains, I use two or three types, usually a combination of brown rice, lentils, barley, and quinoa. You could also try farro, couscous, or split peas depending on your preferences. It’s a great way to use up the last ¼ c or so of a bag. For the beans, I prefer black beans, but in the burgers pictured, I used cannellini since that’s what I had on hand. Don’t skip the step where you dry them out in the oven. It takes the mush out of the beans and creates the perfect texture for adding to the burger.

brown rice lentils barley veggie burgers

The Sticky

A great veggie burger holds its shape while cooking and while you’re chowing down. These burgers are sturdy enough that you can slap them on a greased grill next to the meat eaters’ fare. I like to use a part savory part sweet sticky mix in a 4:1 ratio (1 cup to ¼ cup). Two of my favorite combinations are beets/prunes and sweet potato/golden raisin.

The Earthy

Here’s where the fresh flavors come in. Use mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, shredded zucchini or carrots. Then add fresh herbs to brighten up the burgers. I love to use lots of parsley or basil, but you could use cilantro, oregano, tarragon, dill…

mushrooms veggie burger

The Binders

While the sticky ingredients help keep these burgers together, I also use egg and panko breadcrumbs. The egg is added to a still hot grains mixture so it cooks when incorporated. There is no need to “cook” the burgers later, just heat them until warmed through.

The Spice

The last layer of flavor comes from whatever spice blend you choose. I’ve done everything from using Cajun seasonings to adding pesto. When in doubt, a little chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and salt will do the trick every time.

spices cumin paprika chili powder

Bonus: These burgers freeze beautifully. I keep a stack of individually wrapped burgers in the freezer ready for a last minute lunch or dinner.

 

Veggie Burgers

Makes 8 patties

 

¾ c grains (I used a mix of brown rice, barley, lentils, and quinoa)

1 ½ c water

1 c canned beans, rinsed and drained

1 c savory sticky, like cooked sweet potato or roasted beets (you can cook them in the oven next to the beans)

¼ c sweet sticky, like chopped golden raisins or prunes

½ c earthy ingredients, like sautéed mushrooms, shredded zucchini (salted and drained in a colander), sun-dried tomato, chopped spinach, kale, etc

2 Tbls chopped fresh herbs, like parsley or basil

About 2 tsp total of dried spices, such as ½ tsp each of chili powder, salt, cumin, and garlic powder

1 egg

½ c panko breadcrumbs

Buns and burger toppings

 

Step 1

Combine the grains and water in a large pot and simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 20-45 minutes depending on the grains. (A mixture with brown rice will take the longest.) Add more water if the grains start to dry out.

Step 2

Meanwhile, spread the beans (and sliced canned beets or cubed sweet potatoes) on a sheet pan. Cook at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Sauté mushrooms or other veggies if necessary.

beans mushrooms veggie burgers

Step 3

When the grains are tender and the water is absorbed, mash the beans and sticky ingredients into the grains until the mixture becomes tight. To do this, the mixture needs to be HOT. Then, add the rest of the ingredients and stir really well to fully mix.

sweet potato beans mushroom veggie burger

eggs panko veggie burger

Step 4

Divide and form mixture into 8 patties. These burgers come out about 3 ½” in diameter, perfect for a brioche or some other small bun. Individually wrap and freeze any you don’t plan on using within a few days.

Step 5

To cook the burgers, heat a nonstick skillet to medium high. Cook the burger until golden brown on each side. When the burger is browned, I like to spread some kind of sauce like barbeque or teriyaki on the burger and top with cheese. This helps the burger stay moist. Add whatever toppings and condiments you prefer and enjoy! (And don’t feel bad about adding bacon on top–we do it all the time.)

veggie burger green bean fries

This burger was served with tempura green bean “fries.” This is what healthy looks like at our house. At least we skipped the bacon today!

Six Scrumptious Tomato Recipes

tomatoes banana peppers green beans

Nothing says May in Central Florida like tomatoes galore. In our garden this spring, we have eight tomato plants: one Italian cherry tomato, one Black Krim, one Homestead, one Mountain Gold (which is almost dead), two Tasti Lees (planted from seeds harvested from store bought tomatoes=wild card), and two San Marzanos.

san marzano tomatoes

The San Marzano bush (to the right of the sunflower) has been giving us 1-3 tomatoes a day. Here’s what I picked this morning…

tomatoes vegetable garden

…to add to what we haven’t been able to eat or give away. Time to get cooking!

tomatoes

When the garden (or market) is overflowing with ripe summer tomatoes, try one of my “go-to” tomato recipes.

  1. Roasted Tomato Salsa by Once Upon a Chef

This is our newest favorite tomato recipe. I could drink this stuff, it’s that freakin’ good. It’s very easy to make–just chop, toss, and broil for 10-15 minutes before pulsing in the food processor. The slight char on the veggies takes this salsa to a new level of smoky fresh goodness. It’s delicious hot, amazing cold. I would eat it in a box with a fox.

  1. Baked Salmon in Foil by Giada de Laurentiis

Yes, salmon smothered in tomatoes, shallots, lemon, and herbs. You haven’t tried salmon until you’ve tried this recipe. The tomatoes do something magical to tame the salmon, keeping it moist and flavorful but not fishy.

  1. Crustless Caprese Quiche by Fresh April Flours

This quiche is simple enough to whip up for quick dinner and fancy enough to serve at a brunch party. It is fabulous hot or at room temperature and reheats well the next day. The only tweak I make to this recipe is to toss the onion, garlic, tomato mixture with a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs. This helps absorb some of the moisture from the tomatoes. If you are looking for a new meatless main or impressive party dish, whip out your eggs and tomatoes and get capre-zy!

  1. Stuffed Tomatoes by Sunny Anderson

These light and bright stuffed tomatoes feature breadcrumbs, garlic, and parmesan. A perfect side to grilled or roasted meats and veggies, these stuffed tomatoes are stellar hot out of the oven and at room temperature. Substitute your favorite herbs and cheeses in this extremely versatile recipe.

  1. Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup by Ina Garten

I don’t know about you, but tomato soup is one of the first things that comes to mind when spring tomatoes start rolling in. It’s already in the 90s here, so I have to crank up the AC to trick Rocksteady into wanting soup for dinner. I have tried many a tomato basil soup recipe. Most I find too acidic. Ina adds carrots to this one, which really balances the tomato flavor. The only downside to this recipe is that it doesn’t make nearly enough. If only I had a pot big enough to make a 5-gallon bucket worth…

  1. All’Amatriciana Sauce (Bacon Marinara) by Giada de Laurentiis…she sure knows her way around a tomato!

I grew up watching my Italian mother and Nana making spaghetti sauce from scratch, talking to the pot as they added this and that. Suffice it to say, I know my way around a marinara. But I’m not going to lie. Giada’s recipe is ridiculously good and super easy. It only takes 15 minutes and tastes like it was cooking all day. The linked recipe includes meatballs, but feel free to stop at the sauce. Your noodles will thank you.

tomatoes banana peppers green beans

What do you like to do with a big pile of tomatoes? Please share your favorites with me—these recipes are only going to last us about six days!

Mosaic Tile Fireplace Makeover

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

The nicotine stained, faux pink veined marble on our fireplace had to go. It was the last trace of 90s “model home” in the main living area. Once we completed our open concept kitchen renovation, the fireplace seemed to mock us with its ugliness.

fireplace makeover

Luckily though, it has good bones. We like the trim and mantel, and figured tiling directly on top of the faux marble would be an easy way to update the look. We decided the small 1”x1” square mosaic tiles mounted on mesh would be the simplest to install since we could just cut the mesh pieces to size with scissors. No need to bother with a tile saw!

Our budget for this project was $100, and we ended up spending $104 since we splurged on a new trowel. The mosaic glass tiles we found at Home Depot, called Ivory Iridescent Glass, were only $4.99/sf which was a really good deal. Most of the comparable mesh mounted tiles we saw ran between $10-15/sf.

ivory irdescent glass

fireplace supplies

In addition to the tile sheets, we purchased ceramic tile adhesive, non-sanded grout (for up to 1/8” spacing), a grout trowel, and a sponge. (We already had a bucket and a grout float.)

mosaic tiles fireplace makeover

The Bear was thrilled to open the tile packages, using her big girl scissors, while we laid out the bottom row of tile.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

For the first tile, we made sure to line up the upper right corner cut out of the tile with the bottom left corner of the fireplace box. We had to cheat the tile away from the outside edge slightly to line it up. If we hadn’t done this though, we would have had to cut the tiles with a wet saw. Later, we will fill in any gaps around the perimeter with while caulk (the same color as the trim) so it shouldn’t be noticeable.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

With the bottom row of tiles ready, Rocksteady spread the tile adhesive.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

I quickly applied the tile sheets across the bottom row, while Rocksteady spread adhesive up the left side. I made sure to press lightly so the adhesive didn’t come up through the cracks too much.

We used a small spatula to spread the adhesive all the way to the edges. Using leftover cut tiles, we filled in the last few inches of the row.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

We tiled up both sides first, instead of working clockwise. That way, the top row will line up with both sides and be level across the top.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

We were lucky that the tiles fell even with the top of the fireplace cutout! After finishing the top row, we let the adhesive dry for a few hours before grouting.

Next, Rocksteady mixed the grout, and I taped the cardboard backing from the tile packages on the floor to protect the floor tile from spills.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

We spread the grout over the tiles, working quickly so we could sponge up the excess. It’s easy to remove the grout from the tile surface when it is wet, but much more difficult once it dries. (I should know. When we first bought the house, we scraped the popcorn ceilings and refinished the surfaces with drywall mud where needed. We were too lazy, too frazzled, too excited? to cover the floors first. We ended up with about a gallon of drywall mud in golf ball sized drops dried across our kitchen, foyer, and bar area tiles. It took weeks to scrape, scrub, beg the dried mud up! Although that had nothing on the “toddlers let loose on brownie pan, adults let loose on beer pong” party disaster…)

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

It took a few passes of grouting and wiping to fill the cracks completely. Once the tile was all grouted, we stood back to enjoy the view.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

We still need to add caulk the outer edges where the tile didn’t quite reach. Too bad it’s 90 degrees here. I’m in the mood for a fire tonight!

DIY Interchangeable Play Traffic Mats

lego town

About a month ago, The Bean started crawling. One day she was popping up and rocking on all fours. The next she was trekking in 10 foot spurts. The poster board of roads The Bear was using to layout her Lego towns was the first casualty of her baby sister’s newfound independence.

poster board roads

This was completely unacceptable. My three year old would be lost without her people and vehicles and set ups—she literally spends hours a day engrossed in the happenings of her imaginary town. Going forward, I realized we needed a more durable solution, and I immediately thought of the carpet road rugs that I’ve seen before.

My original plan was to find some carpet squares or maybe small mats at The Dollar Store and use paint to draw the roads. But I struck out. Instead, I found a four pack of these vinyl placements at Home Goods on clearance for $3.50. I’m psyched because these will be easy to clean if something spills on them or we take them outside, unlike the carpet.

traffic mat

Using duct tape, I laid out roads on both sides of all four placemats for a total of eight different traffic patterns. In order for them to be interchangeable, I marked off six 2” wide road access points around the perimeter, two each on the longer sides and one each on the shorter sides. Those have to be in the same exact place on all the mats in order for them to be placed together in any combination.

play road mat

Here’s what the reverse sides look like. (The pool/lake was born after I used up the entire 10 yd roll of duct tape on the other seven sides!)

diy roads

Besides just flipping the mats over, there are many possibilities in how the mats are laid out.

lego town

The best part? These mats are small enough that they are easily stored away at home or packed up to take with us on vacation or out to dinner!

Mini Asian Meatballs with Sweet Chili Glaze

Last night, I was craving our favorite peanut noodle recipe from Ellie Krieger, a light and healthy version of the classic. Her recipe calls for an assortment of steamed veggies on top, which we normally love as a vegetarian meal. Yet as dinner time approached, I couldn’t let go of the idea of a huge stack of meatballs to go with our noodles. (Must have been approaching hangry status.) Although this was the first time I’ve made Asian style balls, these came out perfectly browned on the outside, moist in the middle, and super flavorful from the addition of fresh ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. They are definitely going into the rotation.

IMG_20151203_164648.jpg

Mini Asian Meatballs with Sweet Chili Glaze

Makes about 18

 

1 lb beef

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp grated ginger

2 Tbls fresh parsley, chopped

1 egg, slightly beaten

2 Tbls milk

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

2-3 Tbls sweet chili sauce to glaze

 

Preheat oven to 375.

In a medium bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, milk, garlic, ginger, and parsley. Add beef, egg, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix gently with a fork until just combined. Form into 2” balls and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake 20 minutes or until cooked through. Brush with sweet chili sauce when done.

Enjoy as an appetizer or serve it on top of a bed of cilantro basmati rice or peanut noodles. Add some fresh steamed veggies like broccoli, sugar snap peas, or snow peas to make it a meal.

 

Preschool Vegetable Garden – 6 Weeks Later

worms vegetable garden

Six weeks ago, I helped start a vegetable garden at my daughter’s preschool. Last week, I joined her class to check on the garden and talk about WORMS! I showed the kids pictures of the worm bin we have at home, and then we talked about vermicomposting. Say WHAT!?

worm garden.png

To demonstrate, I brought in a small box of worms, borrowed from our worm bin, and a bag of fresh picked green beans. First, we talked about the parts of food that we throw away. Then, we decided the worms were SUPER hungry, and maybe they would like to eat our kitchen scraps. Despite a few confused expressions, the kids love snapping the ends off the green beans and feeding them to the worms. (Our home garden is very thankful for the class’s help in making our compost.)

When we headed out to the garden we found lots of green tomatoes, baby green beans, and flowers on the beans and marigolds. The sugar snap peas are starting to climb the trellis and even the dill has sprouted!

cherry tomatoes garden

But the most colorful addition to the garden is the student painted garden markers.

peppers paint stick garden marker

san marzano tomato paint stick garden marker

While there was nothing ripe enough to pick, the class LOVED releasing new earthworms into the garden. They will put nutrients back into the dirt and help it aerate.

worms vegetable garden

Some of the kids were even kind enough to dig little holes for the worms to crawl into.

worms garden

preschool garden worms

earthworms garden

Wiggle on worms!