Beet Salad with Feta, Walnuts, and Prosciutto

Farm …

… to Table

My small, suburban garden hardly qualifies as a “farm” but it’s my farm. In the 20+ years that we have lived in this house, the trial-and-error approach has taught me how to get as much as possible out of my 8’x20′ space. And “as much as possible” refers to variety as well as quantity.

One vegetable that was not on my list of must-haves until 4-5 years ago was beets. I don’t even remember why I decided to plant them the first time. It probably had something to do with some Better Homes and Gardens or Cooking Light articles. I am a sucker for those gorgeous photos! I decided to plant a small row and discovered just how little effort and attention they require. They aren’t fussy when it comes to water, they don’t require much in the way of thinning, and they make a perfect border plant.

I also needed to figure out what I was going to do with my harvest. I grew up on beet pickles, but no one in my family really liked them so it seemed like a lot of work for just me (besides, I can always steal a jar from my mom’s cupboard). At this point in time, roasting vegetables and the addition of balsamic vinegar to many recipes became popular. I tried this combination with the fresh-from-the-garden beets and was so impressed, I have been growing them ever since.

Cleaning and cooking beets can be messy but over the years I have found a few tips and tricks to be very helpful. For more instructions on cleaning, cooking, and freezing beets, check out this post: Are You Missing a Beet? I apologize now for the abundance of “beet” puns.

My favorite way to enjoy these “roasted” beets? Well, it’s not a recipe so much as an assembly.

  1. In a bowl or on a serving platter, place a layer (or two) of sliced beets.
  2. Drizzle the beets lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (I used a white balsamic here).
  3. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Sprinkle with chopped, toasted (warmed in a pan until fragrant) walnuts.
  5. Scatter chunks or crumbles of feta (or goat or blue) cheese on top.
  6. Distribute a few (or many) thin slices of prosciutto (can be lightly fried in a dry pan for a crispy texture).
  7. Grab your fork.

If the beet greens are fresh and tender, they can be added as well. If that’s too much beet-flavor, spinach and/or arugula will provide a good balance.

I am hoping I have piqued your curiosity and/or given you a little different perspective on this particular root vegetable. It’s easy to get stuck in a mindset of “I tried it once and it was awful!” Considering that maybe different ways of preparation and different combinations of flavors can wholly change your opinion.

Who knows … I may try to change your impressions of Brussels sprouts in the near future.

And, yes, it is Brussels, not brussel … this blog is teaching me so much!

Sweet beets, salty prosciutto, crunchy walnuts, and tangy feta cheese: this simple salad hits all the notes of a complete meal!
Sweet beets, salty prosciutto, crunchy walnuts, and tangy feta cheese: this simple salad hits all the notes of a complete meal!


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Are You Missing A Beet?

Are you missing a beet?

Have you gone off the beeten path?

Don’t beet yourself up!

No one wants to be defeated …

🎵 Just beet it 🎵

But don’t beet it too a pulp … mushy beets? That’s nasty.

Ok … I’m pun … I mean, done.

It’s hard to be serious when writing about a word that just begs for jokes and lyrics and a vegetable that is this beautiful! Look at those pictures … the deep reds and greens, the stripes of the stems and the ruffles of the greens? How is it possible so many people refuse to enjoy this nutrient-dense, sweet and earthy plant?

Of those who do enjoy them, many are only exposed to the pickled version … delicious, but literally soaked in sugar. I’m not going to beet around the bush (sorry … last one, I promise), they don’t need sugar. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness and tenderness of the beets without adding sugar or losing nutrients in the boiling process.

What are those nutrients? I recently found a website, lovebeets.com, that has a fantastic collection of the health benefits of beets, as well as some fun facts. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • betaine: aids in proper and active liver function
  • antioxidants and cholesterol control
  • high iron, folic acid, and potassium
  • aids in proper digestive health
  • “Nature’s Viagra” – I am not making this up
  • my personal favorite – beets can be made into a port-style wine!!

Starting to think a little differently about beets? Let me add that they are low calorie (75 cal/cup) and simple to prepare. Messy? Yes. But you just need the right tools.

There are a few things that will make the process of roasting beets much more pleasant and greatly reduce clean up:

  1. a slow cooker
  2. slow cooker liners
  3. plastic gloves
  4. an apron
  5. a soft toothbrush

NOTE: I realize that by using a slow cooker, it is not “roasting”. Please don’t beet me up for this technicality. (Insert eye roll and exasperated sigh here.)

For the first year or two that I grew my own beets, I roasted them in my oven. This works great except for the fact that I very seldom want to heat up my house with a 400° oven in the summer and sometimes I want to walk away from that oven without worrying that I’m going to overcook the smaller beets and under-cook the larger ones.

Hello, crock pot!

To minimize the skin- and utensil-staining hassle of working with beets, I lined the crock pot with a plastic liner and covered my hands with plastic gloves. An old apron is also important to avoid staining clothes with the inevitable splatter which occurs while scrubbing and peeling the beets. The final piece of advice that I have for you when it comes to working with beets is to use a soft toothbrush (obviously not one you want to use for its intended purpose) and a cutting board that will not stain or that you do not care if it becomes stained.

Do not let these “warnings” beet you down (oops … there I go again). Each year, I go through this process two, maybe 3, times. The rest of the year, I am enjoying the results. Once they are roasted and sliced/diced, I freeze them in serving-sized portions and they retain their flavor and texture wonderfully.

It’s really quite simple … start with fresh beets.

I grew these beets in my small, urban garden. After I pulled them, I rinsed them outside with the garden hose, to remove most of the dirt. If you don’t have a garden, of course you can use beets from the farmer’s market or grocery store. Look for healthy green leaves and beets that do not look dried out.

Cut off the leaves and stems and the root about one inch above/below the beet. The leaves are a nutritional green that can be eaten raw in salads when small and tender or sautéed like chard, spinach, or kale.

Wash the beets in cold water.

Gently scrub the beets with a soft toothbrush to remove the remaining dirt.

The beets do not have to be perfectly clean. After roasting, the ends and peels will be removed. After cleaning, place beets on paper towels to remove excess water and then place in crock pot.

Drizzle the beets with olive oil, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Cover crock pot and choose a temperature setting. Each crock pot or slow cooker is a little different so timing and temperature require a bit of experimenting. If I’m going to leave the slow cooker unattended for more than 4 hours, I use the “Warm” setting and plan on 6-8 hours. If not, I will use the “Low” setting and plan on 3-4 hours. All of this depends on how many beets you put in the pot and how big the beets are. The best way to test if the beets are properly cooked is to insert a thin, but sharp, knife into the beet. If the knife easily runs through the beet without much pressure, it is done.

Remove beets from slow cooker to a glass (or stain-proof) pan. Allow to cool just until they can be handled. Removing the skins will be easier if they are still warm.

Put on plastic gloves. Slice off the stem and root ends of each beet. Using a small, thin knife, gently scrape off the skin. It should virtually slide off with little pressure. Slice or dice beets into uniform pieces. Allow to cool completely.

Refrigerate for up to one week or divide into desired portions, place in resealable plastic bags, and freeze.

The beets can be eaten warm or cold. To reheat, simply add a small amount of water to the beets in a pan and slowly heat over a low to medium-low temperature. If you reheat the frozen beets, allow beets to defrost about half-way at room temperature before placing them in a pan (omit the extra water as the ice crystals from freezing will provide enough moisture) and heat as directed above.

Add the roasted beets to smoothies (a little goes a long way) or salads. My favorite way (so far) to enjoy them is a Walnut-Feta-Beet Salad with prosciutto.

 

If this doesn’t convince you to give beets another shot, then I think you belong with Michael in this group of people:

Nobody Likes Beets: The Office

 

You can’t BEET these simple “roasting” instructions and tips for using a slow cooker to prepare this healthy, beautiful vegetable!

 


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How I Spent My Summer

What is it about childhood memories?

Those rose-colored, temperature-controlled, glamour-coated days of carefree simplicity?

OK … so that’s a bit of a stretch, but I recently revisited one of the places that has held a prominent place in the mental photo album of my youth: the Buena Vista County Fair (BVCF). To imagine what summers on the farm were like, picture Little House on the Prairie, but with indoor plumbing and cars. As a kid, I had chores: gardening, canning, cooking, cleaning, mowing, and walking beans (a dirty and hot job of walking through the bean fields, pulling weeds in the ever-so-pleasant company of my brothers). There was also plenty of time for riding bikes, swimming, and hanging out with friends. For one week each summer, the county fairgrounds became my home-away-from-home.

When many people think about fairs, I think they picture state fairs: Rogers and Hammerstein stanzas play in the background as images of sparkling carousels, giant corn dogs, ribbons of blue, red, and white flutter in the breeze, and children riding on the shoulders of their parents as they take in the shows.

Now take this extravaganza and divide it by 99 and you find the county fair. Why 99? There are 99 counties in Iowa and each has its own fair. The purpose of the county fair is to focus on the “education of the youth of Iowa, and showcasing Iowa’s agricultural, industrial and domestic heritage” (Association of Iowa Fairs). The “education of the youth of Iowa” is largely centered around the 4-H and FFA clubs. The former is what provided me with so much involvement, opportunity, and fun at the fair.

If you are unfamiliar with 4-H, it is a national youth organization with local, county, state, and national activity levels fostering self-improvement and community service. Kids are introduced and encouraged to explore areas like food & nutrition, sewing, home improvement, animals & livestock, citizenship, photography, public speaking, agriculture, and so much more.

By the time I was 9, thanks to my mom and my grandmothers, I had a pretty solid foundation in cooking, baking and gardening. 4-H was the perfect opportunity for me to build on and expand my food-loving spirit. All throughout the year, our club would meet monthly and divide the responsibilities of hosting, presenting, planning, and sharing ideas. But when school let out in May, it was time to start planning and creating for the fair.

The fair was our chance to display and have judged the things we learned about and made throughout the year. The fairgrounds had (have) a special building for 4-H and each club in the county had (have) a space to decorate and display. Each project had to be entered under a specific category and was judged at the very beginning of the week. Baked goods and nutritional information, arts and crafts, sewing and quilting, refinishing and refurbishing, posters and instructional displays filled the building, waiting to be adorned with a purple, pink, blue, red, or white ribbon.

Once the decorating and judging was over, there was more time for socializing. For the next few days, my cousin and I would wander the fairgrounds, spend time in the cattle barns where her dairy cows were housed for the week, eat fair food (specifically the homemade pie at the Peterson Family Food Stand), and watch whatever events were scheduled for that day. If my cousin was involved in something like the cattle show/judging, I would watch. If I was involved in giving some kind of presentation (usually involving food … go figure), she would watch. The fair was where we got to know a lot of kids from other towns, so we watched what they were doing. There was always a small midway with rides and games that was a true novelty … a couple of rounds on the Tilt-a-Whirl and a bunch of quarters lost to the bulldozer game usually sent us exploring again.

The evenings were reserved for special 4-H events and grandstand entertainment. In the early evening, there would be events centered around 4-H like the Fair Queen Contest, Pie Baking Contest, Share the Fun, and a teen dance. Our fairgrounds were the home of the BV County Stock Car Races during much of the year so the entertainment often involved a night of races, an evening tractor pull (don’t knock it till you’ve watched it), and concerts.

As I wandered around the fair this year, I noticed the 4-H building seemed smaller, there weren’t as many kids or adults milling around, the number of projects and entries had declined, and, sadly, the Peterson Food Stand was no longer operating. I thought, “Where IS everybody?’

I was disappointed.

There were still fun things to do … a rock-climbing wall, kids activities, presentations, animals ranging from large horses to a huge variety of hens and roosters, rides and games, etc.

Pedal Pull Contest

There were still fun things to see … beautiful arts and crafts, kids showing their cattle, 4-H projects, and cute baby contests.

In a world where a 2-hour movie costs $10, a concert runs $75-$100 per ticket, a trip to the aquatic center is $8-$10, this day at the fair was a true bargain. Admission was one dollar. The pork burger I bought from the Pork Producers was two dollars. That evening, the Pork Producers and Corn Growers were sponsoring a free dinner: pork burgers (no, I didn’t mind eating two pork burgers in one day), fresh-from-the-field sweet corn, and ice cream. They were collecting donations to support veterans and as I waited in line for free food, it was pretty easy to contribute after spending a total of $3 for a day of entertainment and memories.

Maybe the fair hasn’t changed nearly as much as my perspective has. I’ve moved to an urban area where instead of supporting county fairs, I’ve been going to the State Fair. Is it possible that those memories have been running through my brain under the influence of rose-colored glasses? I don’t remember it being miserably hot and humid during the fair. I remember it being … well, ideal. I remember it being a busy place, full of people I knew. Or maybe it was not quite as busy as I remember but was full of the friendly, supportive people of my youth.

The fair was a place of freedom, competition, cooperation, networking, community, and education. As a kid, I didn’t realize I was getting all of these life lessons when I paid the admission at the gate. I was just paying for a day of fun. For 9 years, I pledged …

my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

I repeated this 4-H pledge over and over again. I think it took a trip back in time for me to realize I am still a student of 4-H. Next year, I pledge to spend a few days visiting the county fairs in my area. After all, “Shop Local” applies to entertainment too.


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Gyro Meatballs

A Bite of the Mediterranean

Gyro Meatballs in a Pita

I think my understanding of the Greek culture was developed through the following things in order:

  1. one of the early language translations of the Bible
  2. the Olympics, the Olympic torch, and laurel leaf crowns
  3. college toga parties inspired by the movie Animal House
  4. statistics and math classes in college (μ σ π Σ ΦΒΚ)
  5. yet another classic movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Yes, it’s a pitiful list. Yes, I grew up in a barn … well, not literally, but a farm in NW Iowa limits your exposure to worldly cultures (yes, we had electricity and indoor plumbing). Keep in mind we are going back to the late 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s here: no Google, no internet, no computers. You learned the culture of your community and in my case that was Western European and Scandinavian.

How grateful I am to have eventually been introduced to the Greek food culture! Spanakopita, feta, baklava, yogurt, olives, and gyros. The list is much longer but I always seem to gravitate to the gyros. Warm pita bread, tangy tzatziki, crisp vegetables, and that peppery lamb … it’s amazing. End the meal with a crispy, buttery piece of baklava and … Opa!

In my efforts to #makemeatballsgreatagain, the concept of a Gryo meatball was very appealing. Small meatballs that could be layered in a pita for the traditional sandwich or added to a salad with all the veggies and tzatziki sauce or served as an appetizer with olives and tzatziki was something I knew I had to conquer. I browsed through recipes on Pinterest for gyro meatloaf, meatballs, and shredded meat and combined them with my tried-and-true basic recipe (Meatballs 101) to get a thumbs-up approval from my husband.

I like this recipe so much, it makes me wanna throw my head back andSHOUT!

a little bit softer now
a little bit softer now

 

Gyro Meatball Table

Print Recipe
Gyro Meatballs
Lamb, beef and pork combine to make these Gyro inspired meatballs. Hints of lemon, oregano, pepper, onion, and olives give a taste of the flavors one would expect in a good Greek style sandwich or salad. Serve them as an appetizer with tzatziki sauce, or in a pita/salad with romaine, tomato, onion, cucumber and feta.
Gyro Meatballs
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
small meatballs
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
small meatballs
Ingredients
Gyro Meatballs
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Combine all ingredients (start with just 1 1/2 cups of milk, reserving remaining 1/2 cup for later) in a large bowl, mixing by hand until well combined. If the mixture seems dry, add another 1/4 cup milk. Combine. Mixture should hold together (not dry but not soggy either). Add final 1/4 cup of milk if needed.
    Gyro Meatball Ingredients
  3. Use a cookie scoop that is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter to portion each meatball. Place on cookie sheets or in baking pans, close but not touching. If using metal pans, spray lightly with cooking spray.
    Gyro Meatball Scooping
  4. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.
    Gyro Meatballs in a Pita
Recipe Notes

Naan CrackersBread Crumbs: You can use whatever kind of bread crumbs you like. The type of crumb you use will affect the texture of the meatballs. I like to use a flaky crumb, not a coarse one. I have also used ground up crackers in place of a portion of the crumbs.

This time, I had some naan crisps that had gone stale so I ground them up in the food processor and combine them with bread crumbs to total two cups.


Lemon Pepper: 
The brand of lemon pepper that I used in this recipe contains salt. In fact, it is the first ingredient on the label so I did not include any extra salt in the ingredients. If you are using a lemon pepper that has no salt added, you will want to add 1 teaspoons of salt to the recipe as well.

Size of Meatballs: You can make the meatballs any size you want. Cooking time will obviously be longer. The only way to know is to remove one from the pan and cut it in half. Just make sure there is no pink in the middle and that the texture is consistent all the way through.

Ratio of Ground Meats: It would be fine to use equal parts lamb/beef/pork in this recipe (i.e. a pound of each). If you do not like lamb, or cannot find ground lamb at your store, just make it with equal parts beef and pork. I will say, it is the lamb that truly represents gyros.

Freezing/Storing: Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. This is a BIG batch so make some for the future by freezing them in resealable plastic bags. When you are ready for another meal, simply defrost what you need, bring almost to room temperature, and place them under the broiler of your oven until edges start to crisp and meatballs are heated through.

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I cannot leave you without the recipe for Tzatziki Sauce:

Gyro Meatballs Tzatziki

Print Recipe
Tzatziki Sauce
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients except milk in a bowl and whisk until well combined.  
  2. This is a fairly thick sauce (makes a great dip for veggies or for pita chips) so I usually add 2-3 tablespoons of milk to thin it out for dressing.
Share this Recipe
 


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Lasagna Roll-Ups

Last summer, we celebrated my mom’s 80th birthday with a family dinner on her deck. We were blessed with the most beautiful weather that evening, a near-perfect attendance (when the Army calls, the Army calls), yard games, and another generation of healthy (a.k.a energetic) (a.k.a. active) (a.k.a. adorable) kiddos to watch as they chased after bubbles and each other.

I didn’t want my mom to go to a lot of trouble preparing for all of us, so I didn’t tell her what we were doing or where we were going. I just told her we were celebrating her birthday. I tried to get her out of the house that afternoon so I could do the prep work but she didn’t want to leave us. I finally broke down and said “We are having the party here, on your deck. If you don’t leave, I can’t pull it off.”

I said it with a smile and a hug though and she conceded. I didn’t just kick her to the curb either. I had arranged for her to get together with her friends for coffee … so don’t think ill of me. I love that lady!

Italian seemed like the perfect choice for a party like this but I wanted it to be special and easy to serve. With a farm-family like ours, you start with a solid, traditional meat option: Italian sausage with marinara. Because we do have some family members who enjoy stepping outside the realm of meat-and-potatoes dining, I decided to make a spinach-artichoke-pesto version as well. And to make it all just a bit more impressive for this special occasion, the fillings were rolled up in the pasta instead of layered between it.

Add a mixed greens salad, warm focaccia bread, plenty of wine (and beer and juice boxes), and it’s time to sing “Happy Birthday”!

Print Recipe
Lasagna Roll-Ups
Traditional marinara and sausage combine with ricotta and mozzarella to fill half of the roll-ups. Sauteed spinach, artichokes and basil combine with the cheeses for a vegetarian option in the other half.
Prep Time 45-60 minutes
Cook Time 60-75 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 45-60 minutes
Cook Time 60-75 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Brown Italian sausage and drain. Allow to cool. (This step can be done a day or two before assembling the rolls.)
  2. In a food processor, combine sauteed spinach, artichokes, basil/pesto and garlic. Pulse until evenly chopped but not pureed. Place mixture in a medium-size bowl. Add half of each of the following: ricotta, Parmesan, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Add one egg and stir to combine. Set aside. In another medium-size bowl, combine remaining ricotta, Parmesan, dried herbs, salt, pepper and egg. Stir to combine. Set aside.
  3. Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water that has been well seasoned with salt. Cook according to package directions but reduce cooking time by 2-3 minutes. Remove from boiling water to drain. The pasta will finish cooking as the roll-ups bake.
  4. Lay noodles out flat, and spread a light layer of the ricotta mixture across each one. To make sure you distribute the ingredients evenly, lay out 12-14 noodles for each filling mixture and complete one layer on all noodles before moving on to the next layer.
  5. If making the sausage version, sprinkle sausage evenly down each noodle.
  6. Sprinkle an even layer of shredded mozzarella on each noodle.
  7. Gently pat all ingredients down and roll up each noodle. Try not to push down on the noodle as you roll or the ingredients will come out the sides or end.
  8. Lightly spray 2 9"x13" baking pans with cooking spray and pour half a jar of marinara/spaghetti sauce in the bottom of each. Place the rolls side-by-side in the pans. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the rolls. Cover each pan with aluminum foil. (See note below for freezing instructions.)
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove aluminum foil from pans and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes or until bubbly and thoroughly heated.
Recipe Notes

1. To make your own sauteed spinach, click here.

2. If you don't have fresh basil, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of pesto. To make your own pesto, click here.

3. Of course you don't have to make both types of filling. If you only want the traditional marinara with sausage, double the sausage and skip the spinach, artichokes, and basil/pesto. Only want the spinach/artichoke rolls, skip the sausage and double the spinach, artichokes and pesto. Want both? Combine all filling ingredients. Want to make a smaller batch (e.g. 12-14 rolls)? Just make one of the fillings and use just one jar of sauce.

4. Unbaked roll-ups can be frozen for 2-3 months. To bake, defrost completely and bake as directed.

5. The small bread pans work great for holding 2 roll-ups each. Smaller pans may only take 45 minutes to fully bake.

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Most recently, I made this recipe for the MS Run the US team as they made their way from Los Angeles, through Des Moines, to the completion of their journey to New York. This is the third year we’ve hosted this group for dinner as a way to show our support of this amazing, fund-and-awareness-raising group. To learn a little more about this group and why feed them, click here.

Whether you are celebrating a special person, entertaining angels, or feeding a hungry family, this recipe is sure to warm the hearts and fill the tummies of those you love.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

StuffedTomatoes3

Would you just look at these pretty little flavor cups?

Tomato, avocado, spinach, and basil combine to create a nutrient-rich, finger food perfect for brunch, picnics, potlucks, or that space on your plate designated for vegetables. Add in a little dairy in the form of goat cheese and check off the health benefits:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Calcium
  • Antioxidants
  • Iron
  • Lycopene
  • Potassium

We’ve covered appealing and healthy … let’s go for the trifecta with simple.

No oven. No mixer. No bowl.

Seriously, you won’t need to wash a single bowl. A cutting board? Yes. The primary accessory in this recipe is a resealable plastic baggie. If you want to get the kids involved in the kitchen, this is a great place to start!

Print Recipe
Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes
These pretty litle vitamin-packed tomato cups are filled with a mixture of avocado, goat cheese, spinach-basil pesto and lemon juice. Easy to make and hard to resist!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cut each cherry tomato in half. Scoop the pulp out of each half using a spoon or a strawberry huller (the one pictured is from Pampered Chef - see notes below). A serrated grapefruit spoon works well too. Turn halves cut side down on a paper towel to drain.
  2. Put remaining ingredients (excluding fresh basil and jalapeno) into the quart-sized resealable baggie and close tightly. Smoosh (technical term) the ingredients gently with your hands until smooth and well combined.
  3. Make a piping bag out of the baggie by cutting off a small piece of one of the bottom corners with a scissors. Carefully guide the mixture toward the cut corner, twisting the top half of the bag as pictured.
  4. Fill each tomato half with filling by gently squeezing the bag from the top.
  5. Garnish with minced basil and/or jalapeno slices.
  6. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Best to serve the same day they were made to retain bright colors.
Recipe Notes
  1. Pesto: Making your own pesto is very easy and it freezes really well. Here is the recipe for my Spinach-Basil Pesto.
  2. The number of tomatoes that the avocado mixture will fill depends, of course, on the size of the tomatoes you have. See blog post for serving suggestions for any leftover mixture.
  3. If you are not a fan of the piping bag, press and mix the ingredients with a fork until smooth and then simply use a small spoon to fill the tomato halves.
  4. The little silver tool for scooping out the tomato halves came from Pampered Chef. They no longer have this particular tool but they do have an updated version that is also a mellon-baller. It is called the "Core and More".
  5. Be creative! You can add diced jalapeno to the mixture, use lime juice instead of lemon, cilantro instead of basil, or throw in some crumbled bacon.
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Since cherry tomatoes vary in size, the number of cups that can be filled with this mixture is only an estimate. If, after the tomatoes are filled, there is leftover avocado mixture, do not throw it away. This makes an excellent spread for grilled cheese or fried egg sandwiches, a turkey or chicken wrap, or Mediterranean-style panini. Thin it out with a little milk and use it as a salad dressing. Or just spread it on crackers for an afternoon snack.

You’ll have time for that snack because you don’t have a pile of dishes to wash!