Saturday, June 30, 2018

Tomato and Cannellini Bean Salad, with Feta

This Tomato and Cannellini Bean Salad, with Feta, has all the goodness of summer for a light, refreshing meal. It's perfect on a scorching hot day like this one!


It’s hot in Topeka!

We actually had a dew point of 81 degrees a couple of days ago. Plus, we’ve reached 100 actual degrees two days, with the rest in the upper 90s. Heat indexes of 105+!

It’s hot in Topeka!

Hot, hot, hot, hot!!!

Thank goodness this Tomato and Cannellini Bean Salad, with Feta, is cool, cool, cool!

Be careful out there in the heat.

Stay cool!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Why You Should Visit the Woodstock Inn--Now!

When I stayed at the Woodstock Inn and Resort in Vermont this past April, I remember thinking what a great place this would be to visit in the summer—a pool, tennis courts, golf course, hiking, biking, fly fishing...

or, of course, autumn would be terrific, with most of those same activities surrounded by iconic Vermont fall foliage…

or winter, with skiing, x-country, snowboarding, fat biking, snowshoeing...

but spring was great, too—cool enough to keep the fireplaces going—the spa with all its relaxing amenities, including a hot tub and sauna—the game room with all the classic board games and the basement rec room, complete with pinball machines.

Okay, the Inn is a great place to stay any time of the year!

When I first walked in, the Inn felt like home. This was my first time back since moving to Kansas eight years ago, and the traditional d├ęcor style felt very familiar to me. Plus, I was overwhelmed by the huge fireplace in the lobby. I could almost stand up inside it!

My room was perfect. I loved the cozy king-sized bed, comfortable chair for reading, and desk for keeping up with some writing obligations.

Oh, and the huge marble bathroom!

But it was the fireplace I enjoyed most—lying in bed watching the flames dance and listening to the logs crackle and pop. It did make the room smell smoky, which I didn’t find bothersome, but some of you might.

I was very excited by Red Barns at Kelly Way Gardens. This is a gardener’s and/or food lover’s dream location. This spring, the Inn introduced the new culinary and garden studios, where you can take part in tasty food events and up your skills with cooking and gardening classes. Or you can just wander through the gardens, which are a part of the farm-to-table program for the Inn. The staff grows more than 200 varieties of vegetables, 50 varieties of herbs and edible flowers, 75 varieties of berries and orchard plantings, a mushroom glen and 200 varieties of cut flowers.

Speaking of food, the Inn uses all of that lovely produce from the gardens in their two restaurants, both of which serve scrumptious dishes. Guests and locals enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Red Rooster or a cozy dinner at the Richardson’s Tavern.

Breakfast in the Red Rooster was a great way to start the day. I had a glass of the citrus power juice mixture, followed by some tasty blueberry griddle cakes. On my last evening there, I stopped in for a late-evening dessert. It was a triple honey treat of cremeux, mousse, and coulis all made with Kelly Way Gardens honey! Mmmmm!

The food was wonderful in both restaurants, but for atmosphere, I loved the cozy tavern with its blazing fireplace and casual seating. I enjoyed a lovely potato-leek soup to start, and then the ale-battered Atlantic cod served with Old Bay seasoned fries.

Woodstock is a walking village, and the Inn is right in the center on the Village Green. You can spend the day checking out some fun shops and restaurants along main streets through town.

By the way, you can spend an entire day just enjoying the Inn’s spa! I got a wonderful massage while I was there. You can read my write-up about the spa on Woodstock Magazine’s blog.

Since my visit, I’ve had dreams of returning to the Inn for a much longer visit this time. There are so many things to do and see I missed out on! Don’t you miss out!

Disclaimer: The Woodstock Inn and Resort hosted me for one night of my stay. The rest was paid for by Buick/GMC. I paid for my spa treatment and some of my meals. The opinions in this blog post are entirely my own, and the Inn is not paying me to make this post.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Slow Cooker Alfredo Lasagna

I’ve always been drawn to Italian food. Besides the magnificent flavors and the comfort-inspiring feelings brought on by delicious sauces, cheeses, bread, and pasta, I’m also enamored by the whole picture of an Italian meal: Mama encouraging everyone to gather around the table. Plates of antipasti, bowls of soups, platters of pasta and roasted meats make their way around while everyone is talking, gesturing, and eating with gusto. The atmosphere calms down as each person becomes more and more stuffed with delicious food. Then everyone gathers on a rustic patio with cups of espresso, discussing the meal, the day, and what tomorrow may bring.

Cooking Italian style isn’t particularly difficult.  Thanks to chefs like Lidia Bastianich, Mary Ann Esposito, and Marcella Hazan, I know the basics. Though I’ve never made my own pasta—there are too many good ones available at my local stores—I can make my own marinara, alfredo, and carbonara. I love good Italian cheeses, wines, and seasonings.

I made all of my own sauces for many years. But then The Picky Eater passed away, and I needed to find a job to supplement my writing work. When I started working as a reading intervention paraprofessional at a local middle school two years ago, I found myself too tired after a full day at the school and a few hours writing to do much cooking. I grabbed take out, microwaved frozen dinners, or just had cheese, bread, and fresh veggies. My snobbishness about everything being homemade gave way to buying jarred sauces if I cooked pasta at all.

Now I try to find spins on favorite Italian dishes that are quick and don’t take a lot of time. Thus the creation of this Slow Cooker Alfredo Lasagna. This is how the idea came about:

1. An Olive Garden commercial about make your own lasagna, which caused me to think, “I wonder how an Alfredo lasagna would taste?”

2. An email from The Kitchn with a recipe for slow cooker ravioli lasagna made with a marinara sauce.

3. An internet search discovery on Epicurious about how to improve store-bought Alfredo sauce.

This recipe is the result.

I kept it simple, but you could easily add cooked chicken or diced ham to the dish for added protein and flavor. You don’t have to add the spinach if that’s not your thing. Just be sure to use good Parmesan cheese—not the stuff in the green can. And I recommend grating your own Mozzarella instead of buying the grated stuff which has a coating on it to keep it from sticking. Trust me, it makes a difference.

You can grate the cheeses and drain the spinach the night before. Then all you have to do in the morning is assemble everything in the slow cooker and turn it on. Eight hours later, you’ll have deliciousness waiting for you.

Slow Cooker Alfredo Lasagna

Serves 6 to 8

2 jars Alfredo sauce of choice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and the liquid squeezed out
2 22-ounce packages of frozen cheese ravioli (DON’T thaw! Keep it frozen)
1 pound Mozzarella cheese, grated
Chopped fresh parsley and basil for garnish

In a bowl, whisk together the jarred sauce, Parmesan cheese, chicken broth, and Italian seasoning until combined.

Spray the inside of the slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. Pour 1/4 of the sauce into the bottom. Add 1/3 of the frozen ravioli in a single layer evenly over the sauce. Top with 1/4 of the Mozzarella cheese and 1/3 of the chopped spinach. Repeat the layers two more times. Pour on the rest of the sauce mixture and top with the remaining cheese.

Put the lid on the slow cooker, set to low, and cook for 6 to 8 hours. The cheese will melt and get brown and bubbly. Top with chopped parsley and basil before serving.