Polenta Butternut Squash Lasagna

Polenta Lasagna with butternut squash and arugula:
(Recipe adapted from Eat Well cookbook by Williams-Sonoma)

- butternut squash, 6 cups peeled and diced (about 2 lb)
- olive oil, 2 tbsp
- dried thyme, 1/2 tsp (or fresh thyme 3 sprigs)
- fresh basil
- shallot, 1 diced
- garlic, 2 cloves minced
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 12 oz fresh arugula (or spinach*)
- zucchini and yellow squash, shaved into ribbons and cut in half
- part-skim ricotta cheese, 2 cups
- ground nutmeg + cinnamon, 1/4 tsp
- mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, 2 cups shredded
- Firm polenta*, cut in half inch slices (found in pasta isle in tubes)
- jarred marinara sauce or tomato sauce
* lasagna noodles can be interchanged for the polenta slices

Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large baking pan, toss the squash with oil, shallots, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Bake until tender, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and mash coarsely with a fork.

Reduce oven temp to 350 F. Coarsley chop spinach or arugula and combine with the ricotta, nutmeg, mozzarella and parmesan and mix well.

Layer the prepared ingredients in a casserole dish starting with the polenta,
Then, add the butternut squash mixture followed by the three cheese mixture,
Next, add the marinara sauce and repeat these four layers if desired.
Lastly, top the lasagna with a little extra cheese. Bake for 30 minutes and broil for a minute or two the end to add a golden, melted cheese finish. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are two things my family cannot live without: coffee and chocolate.
To feed my family's addictions, I made chocolate chip cookies with a touch of espresso.

Classic Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe:

(adapted from King Arthur's Flour recipe)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup all-purpose flour*
1 cup whole wheat flour, or white whole wheat
2 2/3 cups (16 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (I used Hershey's Dark Chocolate Chips)

*Or substitute barley flour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, oil, sugars, vanilla, espresso powder, and salt till smooth. Beat in the vinegar, egg, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir in the AP flour and whole wheat flour, then the chocolate chips. The dough will appear oily, and because of the quantity of chocolate chips, it won't be completely cohesive; that's OK.

Drop the dough, by tablespoonfuls, onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until the cookies are an even golden brown. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Yield: 33 cookies.

Red Pesto Barley with Roasted Vegetables

June was the big "move-in" month! After a couple of weeks of living in limbo, my family arrived in Charleston with a U-Haul full of furniture and four pairs of helping hands. My "new" apartment, true to downtown Charleston, is a historic home that has been renovated to preserve its rustic charm. My parents are truly the dynamic duo when it comes to moving houses (fun fact: together they have moved in and out of 16 different homes). My mom has an eye for all things decorative. She acts as the interior designer, while my dad plays Mr. Handy-man. He can take on pretty much any task you ask of him. Together, and with little direction from me, they set my apartment up beautifully!

As a small thank you, I tried to prepare homemade lunches and provide treats for the family as they worked hard in my apartment.

Red Pesto with Barley and Roasted Summer Vegetables Recipe:

(Adapted from Anja's Food 4 Thought blog)

1 cup dry barley (or farro, wheat berries, spelt)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1/2 cup yellow squash (or butternut squash)
salt to taste
4 tablespoons mixed seeds, toasted (optional)

Red Pesto
3 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained*
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

*If you do not have capers or wish to omit them completely, you can substitute 1/4 cup artichoke hearts + a dash of balsamic vinegar (milder taste)
Serves 4
Cook the barley in slightly salted water until tender and chewy, about 45 minutes to one hour. Drain and rinse with warm water. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Chop squash, pepper and zucchini into bite size chunks. Transfer to baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies and stir until they are coated. Season with salt. Oven-roast for 15-20 minutes.
For the red pesto, combine all ingredients in a food processor. Mix until smooth.
Stir the red pesto into the wheat berries. Make sure you don't use too much, as the flavor is very strong and can be overpowering. Stir in the roasted veggies and sprinkle the seeds on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.*
*Served cold over a bed of mixed baby lettuces, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, with a touch of cajun seasoning for spice.

Lucky for me, I live right across the street from Sugar Bake Shop!
Charlotte, the true sugar addict in the family, could hardly wait to run across the street and explore the shop. We left with a variety of baked goods: a Ginger Molasses Cookie, Double Chocolate Espresso Brownie (ammmazing and only sold on Tuesdays!), Raspberry Almond Tart, and a Mint Chocolate Cupcake.

Fresh Start - Farmers Market Breakfast

Every Saturday I wake up eager to walk down to the Marion Square Farmers Market. We are blessed to have enough local farms here in South Carolina to provide our community with the freshest, ripest produce. So this Saturday I perused the stalls, tasted a variety of jams, cheeses, and cold soups, and returned home with some gorgeous arugula, tomatoes, SC peaches, as well as some local goat cheese with sea salt.

It was only fitting that I make a delicious farmers market brunch Sunday morning with all my fresh ingredients. The menu consisted of Herb-Roasted Tomatoes with Polenta, an Arugula, Feta Scramble and a Homemade Granola and Fruit Parfait.

Herb-Roasted Tomatoes and Polenta Recipe
- Store bought "Original Polenta" cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 1 ripe tomato cut into 1/2 inch rounds
- Italian-herb seasoning or fresh herbs
- Extra-virgin olive oil (2 tsp)
- Balsamic vinegar (1-2 tsp)
- Fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Assemble the polenta slices on a slightly greased pan, then place the tomato slices on top, followed by fresh herbs, drizzled olive oil, balsamic, and fresh black pepper. Bake for 15 minutes.
Arugula and Feta Scramble RecipeIngredients:
- 1 T butter
- 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
- 1-2 eggs
- 1/4 onion finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced (optional)
- 1-2 handfuls arugula (rocket)
- Feta cheese crumbles (desired amount)
- Salt and pepper

Heat skillet with equal portions butter and olive oil (better flavor). Quick saute the onions until fragrant, add garlic and arugula and saute for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add eggs and scramble. Once cooked through, add desired amount of feta cheese, salt and pepper and transfer to plate.

Homemade Granola and Fruit Parfait Recipe
- Homemade granola (see recipe on previous post)
- 1 banana halved and sliced
- 1 peach diced
- 1 carton yogurt
- any additional add-ins: cereal, fruit, toasted wheat germ, nuts, etc.

Layer granola, fruit, yogurt or simply combine in a bowl and enjoy!

Fresh Cucumber and Avocado Salad

Charleston is hot! With few remedies to cure the heat wave that graces this city every summer, sometimes the most appealing answer lies inside your (air-conditioned) kitchen. There is nothing better than a refreshing chopped salad to accompany your dishes in the summertime. I was immediately excited about this recipe after seeing the post on Kalyn's Kitchen blog. The ingredients are simple and tantalizing: cucumber, avocado, lime, mint, and feta cheese.

Cucumber and Avocado Salad Recipe with Lime, Mint, and Feta
(Makes 2-4 servings, recipe created by Kalyn)

2 cups chopped cucumbers (3-4 medium cucumbers or 2 larger cucumbers)
salt, for drawing water out of cucumber
1-2 ripe avocados, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1-2 tsp. fresh lime juice (to toss with avocado)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint (measure after chopping)
1/2 cup crumbled feta (more or less to taste)

2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T fresh lime juice
Peel cucumbers, and scrape out seeds if they are large. Cut cucumber into 1/2 inch pieces and put in colander. Sprinkle with generous amount of salt and let sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, use paper towels to blot the cucumbers to remove the water and salt.While cucumber is draining, peel avocado and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Put avocado into large salad bowl and toss with the 1 or 2 tsp. lime juice. Wash mint and chop with chef's knife or mini-processor. Whisk together olive oil and lime juice to make dressing and measure 1/2 cup crumbled feta.Add drained cucumbers, mint, and dressing to avocado and combine. Then gently stir the crumbled feta into salad ingredients. Serve immediately.

Green and Lean 5K/ Post-run feast

On May 22, 2010 Charleston hosted the fifth annual Green & Lean 5k Run.
The Green and Lean brings together two organizations, City of Charleston's Keep Charleston Beautiful and Lowcountry Earth Force, who are working to improve the quality of life in the Lowcountry. The proceeds from this event benefit local school-based environmental education programs.
It was a fun run around Brittlebank Park and the Citadel in downtown Charleston. To my pleasant surprise, I was awarded the winner in my category for fastest female ages 20-24 with a time of 23.09. Now, I'm motivated to train harder and crack 20 minutes, as the first place female completed the race in 19 minutes! Wishful thinking... but at least I have a time to work towards :)

After a hard run, nothing beats a victory feast! So, my good friend from work, Alli, took me to her favorite restaurant, Cru Cafe. Here we received special attention at the "Chef's table/Bar" (since Alli is a regular here) and indulged in a delicious meal.
In-house smoked salmon with baba ganoush, crostinis, and lightly dressed arugula.
Followed by the BEST BURGER I have ever had! Seriously.
Angus Burger Au Poivre with caramelized onions and a side of Asian Slaw.
And because Alli is loved here at Cru, the chef gave us a sample of the
White Wine Truffled Mussels and Peppers. Melt in your mouth delicious!

Hands down, the best meal in Charleston to date.