Our DIY Patio & Toasted Turkey and Mozzarella Subs

The overgrown, eye-sore before.

It’s really hard to make your summer to-do list when you’re not sure if you’ll be able to walk or not. I remember before surgery wondering what our summer would look like. After our difficult few months, we didn’t put high expectations on ourselves for this summer. One project, though, would not be put off any more. Our house came with an in-progress deck that needed to be ripped out instead of finished. There was a wood square in the middle of the yard that has served as a deck, but why is it in the middle of the yard? The world may never know.

So, last year my husband pulled out the in-progress part of the patio and it’s been a dirt pit ever since. A bug attracting, muddy, eye-hurting dirt pit. Last weekend, we had the joy and pleasure of installing ourselves a brick paver patio. Installing a brick patio yourself has definite pros and cons.

Pro: You save thousands of dollars by DIY’ing it!

Con: You have to install it yourself, on the hottest weekend of the summer.

Pro: There are tons of calculators online to help you estimate your materials!

Con: These will not accurately calculate the materials needed and you will, inevitably, make 3 trips for more gravel.

Pro: Carrying 500 bricks from the garage to the worksite is a great workout!

Con: No explanation needed.

The beautiful after! I can’t wait to put a dining table on it.

But the exciting part, is the project is done! We have a beautiful patio and now I get to decorate our new outdoor space!

Anyway. I wanted to share an easy, quick dinner recipe with you. While I was working my weekday schedule I needed some fast recipes that I had the energy to prepare after a day at work. I found this recipe in my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook The Best Simple Recipes, and have made it again several times. (By the way, you need to get a copy of this cookbook. I’ve made so many things from it and I would say 90% of them are a hit!)

These eat-with-a-fork sandwiches are an amazing combination of spicy tomato sauce, ooey-gooey mozzarella. and crispy toasty bread.

Also, can we just talk about the fact that I was ignorant to the beauty of pesto before this? Unacceptable. I use it constantly now, and I’m not sure what I would do without it.


This recipe starts with a quick tomato sauce concoction that includes garlic, red pepper flakes, diced tomatoes, and pesto. All the best things, right?


I usually use sub rolls for this, but brioche is what I had on hand, so we used it. First you spread some pesto on each roll, then layer it up!


The recipe calls for smoked mozzarella, but I usually just used sliced. I find it melts better.

Broil those sammies to a crisp and enjoy. I usually serve with a nice fresh salad and it’s a great weeknight meal! I think these would be a great way to use up some left-over turkey, especially after Thanksgiving!

Toasted Mozzarella Subs

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (these make the sauce really spicy. We found it a little too spicy for our taste with 1/2 tsp, but if you need to clean out your sinuses, go for it.)

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

2/3 cup basil pesto

salt and pepper, to taste

4 sub rolls

1 1/2 pounds thin-sliced deli turkey

12 ounces mozzarella, sliced

  1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Heat oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in large skillet over medium-high head until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook until mixture is dry, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in 2 tablespoons pesto and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Spread remaining pesto inside each roll, then layer with turkey, tomato mixture, and cheese. place sandwhiches on baking sheet and bake until edges of bread are golden and cheese begins to melt, about 5 minutes. Serve.



Zucchini Bread

Our house has a little eating nook off the kitchen. I had this amazing vision of doing this DIY corner bench with Ikea bookshelves that had storage in them. It wasn’t working. We never used it, and getting to the storage was annoying. So, I decided to make over the space.

I got this Ikea Hemnes desk on sale and my dad put it together for me. I love it. It fits perfectly in the space and it works as an amazing little command center for our mail, and the cookbooks I use frequently.  FullSizeRender (10)

It’s been 7 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days since I’ve worked full-time. This extended period of time off has been a mixture of good and bad. Obviously, the bad included being operated on and unable to do things that require 2 working legs. No one ever expects to go through something like this, especially at my age. Our life for the last 7 months has been mostly out of our control, and that has sucked.

But I will say, there have been some good parts. Like, you know, not having to go to work. I’ve basically made my own schedule based on what I feel like doing each day. I’ve learned new things (knitting) and started new habits (swimming!). I’ve had the chance to spend more time with my friends and family (particularly this past holiday season) because I didn’t work my weird schedule. And while I have missed my coworkers and being a nurse tremendously, they’ve all kept in touch and I’ve seen several of them outside of work.

Today is my last day of medical leave. Tomorrow I start training for my temporary new job at the cardiology office. It’s a weird feeling having something I never thought would happen come to an end. It’s like life is almost back to normal. I’m hesitant to say we’ve made it through it, but it feels like we’re on the downward slope. There are moments– even when I’m standing!– where I actually forget that something happened to my leg.

It’s so, so excited.

So, anyway. Last week in our Door-to-Door Organics box we got literally 5 zucchini. I knew immediately I needed to make zucchini bread. I had never even had zucchini bread until last summer when my husband bought some from a farm stand while we were camping. It was delicious! I had no idea it even existed and it’s one of his favorites.phonto (1)

Each zucchini yields about 1 cup shredded, so I had a lot of zucchini on my hands. Earlier this week I tried scones with a lemon glaze, but I wasn’t thrilled with the results. Guess I better stick to the old standards.

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I packed them in these little loaf pans and gave them away to family.

This recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I’m happy with the results so I thought I would share it with you all.FullSizeRender (13)

Zucchini bread

  • Servings: 2 loaves
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
  • 2/3 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of 2 loaf pans, set aside. In a large bowl stir flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Make a well in center of flour mixture.

In a medium bowl combine eggs, sugar, shredded zucchini, oil, and vanilla. Add zucchini mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). If desired, fold in nuts and raisins.. Spoon batter into prepared pans.

Bake about 55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near centers come out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.

Enjoy!FullSizeRender (11)


Asparagus and Goat Cheese Risotto


A year or two ago when I first decided to try my hand a risotto, all the recipes I found warned of the difficulty and time commitment. They painted this scene of standing over a pot for hours, stirring to make that perfect creamy consistency.

Now, why would I do that if I could just go to Bistro Bella Vita and get the perfect dish every time?

But then I decided to try a recipe I found with asparagus and goat cheese, and I didn’t have to spend my day babysitting a pot of rice. (I did, get to buy a food processor which was one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life.) It went surprisingly well! I was as proud of a dinner as you can be. So, I’ve made changes to the original recipe along the way to make it my own.

Ben brought home some farm-stand asparagus this week, and it only took a few minutes of conversation for us to agree it needed to be used in a risotto. With goat cheese. We disagreed on the need for bacon in the dish, but decided to leave it out this time. Oh, and he bought a bunch of mushrooms for homemade pizza over the weekend, so we could add those in, too.

That’s what I love about this particular dish– it’s so versatile. You can use what you have in the kitchen, what’s in season, or alter the ingredients to pair well with a particular dish.

It makes for fantastic leftovers, too. Enjoy!

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Arborio rice is mandatory. It’s like a hybrid between pasta and rice.

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If you don’t have a food processor, buy one. You will find a lot of uses for it. I’ve used mine for cookies, protein shakes, seasoned butter…

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Toasty rice.

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Gradually adding in the broth is key here, make sure you wait until the broth is absorbed by the rice to add more.

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You can use goat cheese crumbles or log, it will melt either way. I usually have crumbles on hand for salad.

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Dinner’s ready!

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Risotto

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy/moderate
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  • 3/4 cup arborio rice
  • 1 lb asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 1 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 oz goat cheese
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Place rice in a bowl and add just enough water to cover the rice. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, drain, and reserve water. Set rice & water aside.

Cut the tips off the asparagus and place both the stalks and the tips into a pot. Cover with water and simmer until asparagus has softened. Drain, and separate tips from stalks, placing stalks into a food processor. Pulse until stalks become puree.

Set a skillet over medium heat, add butter and allow to melt. Sautee onion, mushroom, and garlic in melted butter until soft. Pour rice into the pan and toast while stirring frequently. After 2-3 minutes, add rice water and wine. Once liquid is reduced, turn down heat and add in broth 1/2 cup at a time. Once the liquid is absorbed, the rice should have a creamy consistency.

Stir in asparagus puree, goat cheese, salt, and pepper. Add in the asparagus tips and cook for 1-2 minutes until soft.