Thursday, July 31, 2014

Asian Inspired Summer Meal…great for kids too!

Asian Inspired Summer Meal 

The textures and dynamic flavors of Asian food, have always made it one of my favorites. On a hot summer day, cool summer rolls and a simple stir fry entree are light and don't leave you unable to get out of your seat. In fall and winter, a spicy Phó or Tom Yum soup warms you from your belly to your soul, and never fails to be sweet, tangy and salty, hitting every area of tastebuds on your tongue. 

My inspiration for these recipes, was once again the garden fresh lettuce, green beans and snow peas from my parents', Piney Wood Hill Gardens, cucumbers that I grew with the help from my neighbors Claire and Tim's green thumbs and garden space, and basil and mint from my own garden. The carrots I picked up today at the Monument Square Farmer's Market, here in Portland, and the chicken also local, from Mainely Poultry.    
Appetizer : Summer Salad Rolls 
with Tangy Thai Peanut Sauce

                    Entree: Garlic and Ginger Stir Fried Green Beans

                      Paired with lemon-ginger chicken and snowpeas 

                     and brown rice. 

I also drew a bit of inspiration and motivation from my daughter Zsuleikah. Green beans are her favorite vegetable, and getting a nearly-four year old to eat vegetables, at least mine, is no small feat. One of our favorite local restaurants is Empire Bar & Grill , where she can eat a whole plate of their garlic green beans.             

This took some time for me to prepare. But with a fridge full of fresh veggies,  most of the minutes passed as I decided exactly what veggies would be included in these recipes, and what flavors I wanted to come through. I would say all in all, from the Summer Rolls to the finished entree and design, an hour and a half tops. 

And now for the recipes…

But first a message from my preschooler…your kids will love these!

Summer Salad Rolls  
Makes 4 spring rolls, 8 halves.

  • Spring roll wrappers (rice not flour)
  • Vermicelli Noodles (mung bean)  
  • One carrot
  • One cucumber
  • Fresh sweet basil
  • Fresh spearmint
  • 4-6 small leaves of lettuce (I used butter crunch)

Dipping Sauce 
  • 1/4 cup natural peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari (low-sodium)
  • A pinch of ground ginger powder
  • 1/8-1/4 cup warm water
  • a couple of scant drops of sesame or peanut oil  

Step 1: Prepping the ingredients

Wash all your vegetables and herbs. I would also wash all my veggies for the other two recipes at this point. See below for what you will need. 

Prepare vermicelli as directed on package. (Basically boil a pot of water, and put the noodles in for about 4-5 minutes. These go a long way, you don't need much. I could have used half of what is in my photo). Once cooked, drain and rinse with cold water to cool. 

While vermicelli is cooking  Peel the cucumber and the carrot. Cut off the ends. Cut the cucumber in quarters lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Cut both carrot and cucumber into matchstick sized pieces. You may need to trim them down, but sometimes it can look nice to have a little extra hang out of one end of the summer roll. 

Remove leaves of basil and mint from stems.  Arrange all on a plate or board for easy assembly. 

Step 2: Assembling the rolls 

Spring roll wrappers are a little tricky, they are delicate and once they have softened, stick together easily. Follow directions on package, softening one at a time in a bowl of warm water. 

Then lay dampened wrapper on a plate. 
1. Place lettuce leaf about 1/2 inch from edge of wrapper. 
2. On top of the lettuce, layer on desired amount of carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, and vermicelli noodles. 
3. Finish with with mint and basil leaves. 
4. Then roll like a burrito. The package sometimes shows you how. Roll wrapper tightly around the filling, fold in ends, and roll to the opposite edge. 

Repeat these instructions until all ingredients are used. If you want fatter rolls, double up on the carrots and cucumbers. You might also want to add in a protein, such as chicken, shrimp or tofu. 

Cut rolls diagonally at the midpoint of roll. Arrange on plate or platter. 

Step 3:  Making the dipping sauce

In a bowl or glass measuring cup, combine peanut butter, juice of half a lime, sugar, and soy sauce. Stir in water and mix with a fork or small whisk until mixture is smooth and thinner. Add in sesame or peanut oil and ginger powder. Stir well. Pour into dipping bowl. 

Serve garnished with basil or mint and a lime wedge. 

Please see previous two posts for the Garlic and Ginger Green Bean and the Lemon-Ginger Chicken and Snow Pea recipes. 

Ginger-Lemon Chicken and Snow Pea Stir Fry

Ginger-Lemon Chicken and Snow Pea Stir Fry 

This dish is flavorful and leaves a nice clean palette. A complete meal is made with my summer rolls as a starter, garlic ginger green beans as a side, and should be served with rice. I like to serve it with brown rice, which should be prepared 45 minutes before serving time.


  • 2/3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 1/2 cups thickly sliced sweet onion
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger root
  • 1/2 pound of snow peas, washed with stems removed
  • 8 sprigs of Thai Basil
  • 10 sprigs of cilantro
  • 4 Tbl. spoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cups warm water 
  • 1 Tbl. spoon of cornstarch
  • 1 Tbl. spoon lemon juice
  • 1 Tbl. spoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. cane sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
  • Half of a jalapeño minced finely with no seeds (cooking for kids I cut back or leave out)

Step 1:  

Cut chicken across the grain of the breast, into 1/8 inch thick strips. 
Peel and cut a sweet onion, first in half, then slicing into 1/4 inch thick chunks. 

Step 2: 

In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add onion, sauté on medium-high for about 3 minutes, until they begin to brown. Add chicken and ginger. 

When chicken is nearly done, about 7 minutes. Turn off heat. 

Step 3: Making the sauce

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the water and the cornstarch. Mix well to be sure there are no lumps. Add in the remaining ingredients. 

Chop your thai basil leaves and cilantro. The basil will really make this meal pop! 

Step 4: 

At this point add the snow peas to the chicken and onions in the skillet. Return to a medium-high heat. You do not want your peas to overcook, as they will get stringy. Sauté for about a minute. Then after giving the sauce a good stir, pour sauce over the stir fry. It will begin to bubble and thicken right away. Constantly stir, until the sauce has thickened and coated the meat and veggies, about a minute. Turn off heat, and serve. Garnish with the thai basil and cilantro. 

Garlic and Ginger Green Beans

Makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound green beans, washed and trimmed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly 
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger root, peeled and cut into large cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • Pinch of brown sugar
  • 4-6 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • A pinch of red chili flakes optional 

Step 1:  In a large skillet, just slightly heat the olive oil. 

Step 2: 

Add green beans, ginger and salt. Toss with wooden spoon or tongs, to coat with oil. When beans begin to darken slightly in color, add garlic. Continue turning beans, so that all sides begin to wilt and brown. Add sugar. 

Step 3: 

When nearly all beans have some blistering and browning, add soy sauce, and chili flakes if desired, and continue to stir fry for another minute or two.

  Step 4: 

   Remove from pan, so beans don't continue to cook. Turn onto plate or platter.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Watermelon & Mint Cooler

Watermelon & Mint Cooler

I remember the first time I had a deliciously refreshing, simple fruit drink. I mean not the kind you get at a swanky smoothy shop here in the states, or the kind you pop open from a can or a bottle. I mean, the real thing, fresh, satisfying, unperserved. I was barely into my twenties, and was traveling in the backpacker town of Montezuma, Costa Rica.  In The Bakery Cafe, with warm, pull apart fresh bread; a sun drenched patio, speckled with shade of the coastal canopy, where the calls of the ornery bluejays drifted through the dense humid air, and the grunting howler monkeys sneered at you from not so afar,  I had my first batido de sandia con agua. After that, it was all over. Every day I would cool myself down with a refreshing shake, wether it be tamarindo, maracuyá, guayabana, piña or melon, con agua or leche.  They were the perfect combination of sweetness, creaminess and coolness. 

My love affair of the perfect refreshing cooler, didn't stop there. When I lived in Colombia, you couldn't tear me away from my daily craving of jugos naturales, made from a number of exotic fruits, in which I can't remember the names, but can't forget the flavors. My obsession however was, maracuyá, what we call passionfruit in English. The perfect tartness, that keeps you coming back again and again. And as a staple in nearly every home in Colombia is a blender, I quickly learned how to make my own cold, iced, yellow perfection. 

I got so excited the day I was in the local supermarket and saw that they had passionfruit, although different than the large yellow globes of the variety you would find in Colombia, I figured the taste had to be close. I loaded up a bag of the small little, wrinkly perfect purple, spheres, my mouth watering at the thought of just scraping out those funny seeds, and whirring them up with some ice in the blender. You wouldn't believe my disbelief and disappointment when I got to the register, and saw they weighed in at around $18 dollars. I hadn't noticed the $1.99/each price tag, and was thinking per/pound. So long story short…here in Maine I stick to fruits which are a little less exotic. 

So here is my recipe for a satisfying, refreshing drink, which really hits the spot on a hot summers day. It also makes a great cocktail, if you are looking for something more for the evening/festive variety. I also just want to throw a little gratitude for the inspiration from my friends at the best food truck in Maine El Corazón . If you are local, check these guys out for delicious authentic Mexican food. 


Makes about 30 oz/3.5 cups

  • 1/2 Watermelon
  • 1 Generous handful of fresh mint.
(I like to use a sweeter mint like spearmint/peppermint)
  • 2 Limes 
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 5-8 Ice Cubes

Step 1: 

Scoop out the fruit of the watermelon into the blender, allowing the juice to drip in. Add in the 1/4 cup water. Blend on high until fruit is smooth. You may need to use a spoon to push the fruit toward the blades. Of course be sure the blender is off when doing so. 

Step 2: 

Squeeze the limes into the blender. I use a hand-help lemon squeezer, into the blender. 
Add in the washed mint leaves. Add in ice cubes. Blend on high until all ice cubes have been crushed. Taste. Adjust if needed. 

I don't feel any sugar is needed, but this is a matter of taste and the sweetness of the melon. 

Step 3: 

Pour into glass, add ice if desired. Garnish with watermelon wedge, lime slice and mint leaves. 

Savor it, slurp it, or stash remainder in the fridge for later. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Roasted Summer Garden Veggie Pizza

Roasted Summer Garden Veggie Pizza

I didn't make the dough, I used to, but as a mom, you have got to save time somewhere. Here in Portland, ME we have a great local market Rosemont Market, I use their white pizza dough as a standby. They also offer whole wheat dough, but my dad swears by white flour to get a truly thin and crispy crust. So I will stick with his word. If you want to make a good crust from scratch, I suggest the recipe on the bag of the King Arthur Flour bag. Again, when I have a surplus of time, I also would make my sauce from scratch, today I am going to use Muir Glen Organic Tomato Sauce


1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 small eggplant
2 cloves garlic
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
4-6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (for roasted veggies)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (to garnish pizza) 
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 tomato
pizza dough (or see suggestion above)
8-12 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (depending on your bias for cheesiness) or 4-6 oz of low-moisture part skim grated mozzarella. 

Step 1: 
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. If you are going to use a pizza stone for cooking your pizza, put it in the oven at preheat! You don't want your stone to crack. 

Wash your veggies. 

Chop the zucchini, squash and eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes. Slice the tomato and set aside. Chop fresh basil, set aside 1/4 cup to garnish the finished pie.  

Step 2: Marinating the veggies
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the zucchini, squash and eggplant with the basil, oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar. Using a garlic press (or finely mince) add in the 2 cloves of garlic. Toss well. I don't actually let the veggies marinate long, maybe 5 minutes. Of course you can add time to that if you choose. 

Step 3: Roasting the veggies (25 minutes)
Turn veggies out onto a  sheet pan  with a slightly raised edge. Give it a shake to spread the veggies out. Place in the oven on the top rack. (mine is mid oven) Every five minutes turn veggies, I use a metal spatula. About 15 minutes into roasting, bump the oven up to 475 degrees. You don't want your veggies to get to crispy or dried out, don't forget they are going on the pizza which will be in the oven for about another 15 minutes. If your veggies are bigger cubes, it might take a little longer. I like the veggies to just be tender, neither under nor overcooked. After 25 minutes, remove veggies from oven, and set aside. Don't turn off the oven, you want a nice hot oven for your pizza. 

Step 4: Preparing the pizza
You can either role your dough out on a lightly floured counter top, or a wooden board. I don't get all technical, but I would say you need about 6-8 oz for one crust. 

Using a flour rolling pin, roll your dough out to desired thickness. Before it gets too thin, I stretch the dough a bit by hand. Unless your a pro, don't go overboard, or you will end up with a lot of very thin spots or holes. Roll from the center of the dough, towards the outside. When your dough is of desired thickness, grab the stone out of the oven. 

Carefully lie your rolled dough onto the pizza stone. Some people choose to sprinkle the stone first with course corn meal. 

Once your dough is on the stone, quickly add desired sauce, if you want a nice crust, don't put it all the way to the edge. Add desired amount of cheese. Sprinkle the roasted veggies over the cheese, the thinner they are spread, the better the crust will cook. Sprinkle just a tiny bit more cheese over veggies and lay tomato slices over the pie. Place in the oven, on the top rack. Cooking time should be 12-17 minutes. If your cheese is getting to crispy for your liking, move the stone to the lower rack for remainder of cook time. Before removing from oven, check the crust to be sure it is done, by gently sliding under a spatula and checking crispness of crust. When done, remove from oven. 

Step 5: 

Let cool on stone for 2-3 minutes, slide onto a board and cut into slices. Sprinkle reserved 1/4 c. basil over pie. 

Serve and Enjoy! I like to accompany this pizza with a fresh garden Salad. 

If you have remaining dough and ingredients, repeat step 4. 

You can substitute goat cheese for the mozzarella. It will have a different flavor, but also very tasty. 

Tasty Beginnings~a little background at present day

Tasty Beginnings

 After an extremely busy year of teaching Middle School Spanish, I decided I was not going to work this summer and get back to being creative. One of my goals this summer was to start blogging. I feel like I have a lot of interesting stories and experiences to blog about, but I guess what comes easiest to me is food. So here we go, what better time to start than a stormy day in Maine. 

A this time of the year in Maine, gardens just begin to show their sweet bounty. I have a very small urban garden, where this year, I am growing mostly herbs; Thai and Sweet Basils, Sage, Cilantro, Parsley, as well as summer squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, green beans and lettuce. However, my good friends and close neighbors, have an urban garden, chockfull of a variety of veggies, and my parents two hours north, have an enormous garden, and outdo themselves every year. When I can't find what I'm craving through them, I can always visit one of our two local farmers markets here in Portland. 

Food has always been an important and quintessential force in my family. Like I said, my parents have a vast and amazing garden. Well to pair it up, they also are fantastic cooks, who instilled in me the values of nutrition, balanced diet, and a critical passion for quality, tasty food. The joke with my friends as a teen-ager, was oh we have to wait for Karina to finish dinner before going out, its going to be a couple hours. Dinner was almost always elaborate, to say the least. 

I love to cook, although it really seems to have become one of the last things I do or can find inspiration for in my day to day life. I used to spend hours in the kitchen, just throwing things together based on flavor and texture combinations I could just kind of imagine, without literally tasting them. Things change, and now I am a busy mom, with a daughter who is not only picky, but getting her to sit still and focus on eating is quite a daunting task. Therefore, many of my go-to meals these days have seemed to be based on bland and boring three year old tastebuds. Thank goodness that seems to be changing, and she is becoming a bit more adventurous and accepting with her pallet. 

So with that being said… with a little fresh summer time inspiration on a cooler day. I'm going to share my recipe for roasted garden veggie pizza. 
                                                             Salud-- Karina

Multigrain Maine Blueberry Pancakes

Multigrain Maine Blueberry Pancakes

These light and fluffy pancakes are one of my families favorite breakfast foods! The recipe can be used either as a pancake or for a waffle. 


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheatgerm 
  • 1/4 cup white flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3-5 Tblsp olive or coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen Maine blueberries
  • zest of one lemon
  • Optional: Maple Syrup and plain yogurt

Step 1: Preparing the batter

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all dry ingredients. 

(If you are using a griddle, at this time begin to heat the griddle)

In a separate bowl combine 3 eggs, slightly beaten, 2 cups of milk, and 3-5 tablespoons of oil. Lightly mix. 

Pour wet ingredients into dry. Mix till wet, but don't over mix. Add in lemon zest and blueberries. Mix lightly. 

Step 2: Cooking the cakes

You should not need to oil the griddle. I use about a 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup of batter to make one cake, as I like silver dollar sized cakes. Pour batter onto griddle at med heat. You will know it is time to flip the cakes, when little popped bubbles or holes begin to form, about 2-3 minutes or so. Cook on opposite side for about 2-3 more minutes. 

Step 3: Serve, Eat and Enjoy

Top with a scoop of plain yogurt (I like greek) Maine maple syrup and fresh blueberries. Enjoy!

If you would like to substitute orange juice for the milk, to make a lactose free recipe, adjust the recipe by reducing baking powder to 2 tsp and add 1/2 tsp of baking soda.