RSS Feed

Warm Up with Broccoli Cheese Soup

Image

Fall is a season of change here in Michigan. As the green leaves begin transforming into their colorful grand finale, we gradually swap out our flip flops for real shoes and our shorts for long pants (except for that odd breed of man who stubbornly sports pasty legs all winter long). We also cycle through five or more jackets of varying weights–sometimes all in a single day.

My body has never tolerated the cold very well. As the temperatures grow cooler, I cling to any little bit of warmth I can get, rejoicing in mild Indian Summer days, evenings by a flickering campfire and warm dogs curled up next to me on the couch. I have childhood memories of hanging out with a book in front of the heating vent in my parents’ bedroom. In high school, I wore my jacket all day and sat on the heat registers in my classrooms until the teachers shooed me off.

However messed up my internal temperature may naturally be, I realized yesterday that something was not quite right when I absolutely could not get warm. I was dressed in my work clothes: pants, a light shirt and a cardigan sweater. They failed to ward off the chill, so I fashionably topped them off with my bathrobe and my heaviest winter down jacket. I was still shivering…on a 60 degree day. I was getting sick.

Unfortunately, fall is also the time when we trade our relatively vibrant summer health for sniffling, sneezing, body aches and fevers. We teachers spend our days in a veritable petri dish of creepy crawlies, and within the first few weeks of school, many of us succumb to one bug or another. Realizing that this time had come, I temporarily ditched the bathrobe and dragged my cold achy self to the grocery store to pick up the one key ingredient that I did not have on hand to make at least my tummy warm and happy: a block of name-brand processed cheese-food. (A departure from my usual preference for real cheese). I was determined to cook up a big vat of creamy, rich broccoli cheese soup before I reached the point where I would have take to the couch and further accessorize my outfit with a tissue inserted into both nostrils.

The timing was perfect. I had some broccoli from the garden waiting in the fridge, and with Bill’s help, Project Broccoli Soup was finished and greedily consumed before 6:00 p.m. The tissue made its debut at exactly 8:30 p.m. Today, home from work and feeling miserable, the leftover soup was just what I needed.

It’s super-cheesy and ridiculously comforting. I would highly recommend giving this recipe a whirl. Click here to find it.

Advertisements

Super Sneaky Zucchini Apple Pie

Forgot to take a picture of the whole pie, but managed to get a pic of a slice before we devoured it all!

Many people have a mental block when it comes to zucchini. Take my dog sitter, for example. I had baked up a batch of perfectly delicious zucchini muffins and offered her one. She declined, stating that she hated zucchini. Now, hate is a pretty strong emotion for such an unassuming vegetable, and both my husband and I sensed that she had never experienced the yummy versatility that zucchini can offer. My husband started his persuasion technique with the tried and true, “But you can’t even taste the zucchini!” She looked at him dubiously. I followed up by asking her if she liked banana bread and carrot cake. When she said that she loved both of those, I explained that the muffin was similar. After a bit more coaxing, she took a bite, and was a very happy zucchini convert. In the future I may just refer to them as Cinnamon Muffins when sharing them with zucchini-phobes.

If you don’t have twenty minutes to talk your guests into trying baked zucchini products, but you have zucchini covering your countertops and must sneak them into food at every opportunity, then I have discovered an ideal recipe for you: Zucchini Apple Pie. Faced with a freshly picked monster zucchini last week, I found this recipe that would use a large quantity of zucchini and give me an easy dessert to top off a barbecue with friends.

However, I was not sure how well the pie would go over if I explained what was in it. So I didn’t. I made coy comments, such as “Bill made pickles today, and I did some baking. Now the kitchen smells like a weird combination of pickles and apple pie.” Then, when I brought out the pie, everyone assumed it was apple pie and eagerly dug in, giving it rave reviews, including, “This is the best apple pie I’ve ever had!” At that point, my husband gleefully broke the news that there was not a single apple in the pie, just zucchini. Nobody believed him. At all. So I had to fess up and show them the recipe.

Don’t they look like apple slices???

It was truly fabulous! Actually, it was a combination of two recipes. I followed this Zucchini Apple Pie recipe, but since I only had one deep-dish frozen pie crust on hand, I didn’t put a top crust on it. Instead, I made the crumb topping from this Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie recipe. The final result tasted very similar to my husband’s favorite brand-name Dutch apple pie, which he will no longer allow himself to eat because it contains trans-fats. So, now we have a tasty alternative!

At the same barbecue, I tried out this Cucumber Zucchini Salad recipe as well.  It was also a winner, crisp and refreshing, and I was asked to bring it to another event the following weekend.

A nice summer side dish!

And, after trying several pickle recipes over the years that we haven’t much cared for, we like this one: Homemade Zesty Dill Pickers and Peppers, and so did our guests. It makes a flavorful, crunchy refrigerator pickle.

Well, what are you waiting for?  Time to get busy with those zukes and cukes!

The Neglectful Gardener Makes Stuffed Zucchini Cups and Oven Zucchini Chips

The main garden, thriving with little care

This summer is cruising by so quickly that I can’t believe that July is almost halfway over!  Many exciting things have been happening in the garden, such as plants inconveniently producing berries and oversized vegetables while we were out of town, and octopus-like weeds popping up everywhere to mock our neglect. We returned home from our cottage a few days ago to find that our beloved raspberries, overripe from not being picked, had become fodder for flies.  Luckily, we caught the zucchini before they developed enough to become self aware.  The weeds continue to grow, since I have been too busy (i.e. lazy) to do anything about them.

The first night back, my husband rooted around and emerged from the garden with a monster zucchini, some semi-normal sized zucchini, several cucumbers, and one single pathetic raspberry.  The decimation of the raspberries saddened me, because our homemade raspberry jam is one of my favorite treats from our garden. I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to make it this year.  However, I had the foresight to pick and freeze about two cups of raspberries before we left for vacation, so now I am slowly adding to that amount each night as fresh berries ripen.  We should be able to squeak out a few jars of jam, but probably won’t have enough for raspberry pie–another one of my favorites.  Sigh.

I knew that leaving the garden unattended for a long stretch of time wasn’t the most responsible choice, but with temperatures forecasted in the 90s, we sure as heck weren’t going to sit around our sweltering backyard and watch things grow when we could be at a cabin on the lake.  So, we sacrificed raspberry pie for up north.  As my husband said, “You can buy a raspberry pie, but you can’t buy the up north experience.” So true.

The rest of the garden is doing its thing.  The tomato plants are flowering and becoming unwieldy (as we are behind on the staking), and new plants are emerging from last year’s unintentional reseeding.  We’re getting some peppers in, and best of all, we will be having corn on the cob tonight because I actually managed to pick the first two ripe ears before the local wildlife ravaged them!

Corn for dinner tonight!

So now that we are finally able to harvest some stuff, I thought I’d pass along two new zucchini recipes that we tried. The first one successfully used up a monster zucchini.  (I still have one more lurking in my vegetable crisper, awaiting its fate as zucchini bread or spice cookies).

If you like stuffed peppers, this recipe is along the same lines.  In fact, you could stuff them with the filling that you usually use in peppers.  We made the recipe pretty much as directed and thought it was a keeper.

Stuffed zucchini cups

Meat, Tomato and Mozzerella Stuffed Zucchini Cups:

http://www.kalynskitchen.com/2009/09/recipe-for-meat-tomato-and-mozzarella.html

I think this second one is going to be made on a frequent basis this summer as my go-to savory zucchini recipe.

Zucchini chips

Zucchini Oven Chips

http://www.health.com/health/recipe/0,,10000001087041,00.html

We whipped this up as an evening snack recently, and it was sooooo good.  Simply slice a normal sized zucchini into chips, dip in milk and a seasoned breadcrumb mixture, and bake the slices in a 425 oven for half an hour on a nonstick baking rack.   I didn’t have breadcrumbs on hand, so I pulverized some Parmesan/garlic croutons in my little food processor to use instead.  Also, it seemed like these would be good with a dip–like the zingy dip served with Bloomin’ Onions at Outback Steakhouse.  Since we were out of horseradish, my husband improvised and came up with his own tasty dip. I’m giving you the closest approximation to his measurements that I can, since he was in mad scientist mode and measured nothing.  So, I suggest starting with minimal spices, tasting it as you go and adjusting accordingly.

Zippy Dip

  • 1/3 cup sour cream (or lite sour cream)
  • 1/4 cup mayo (or lite may0)
  • capful of white vinegar

Approximately 1/4 tsp of each of the following, or to taste:

  • chili powder
  • ground cayenne
  • paprika
  • garlic
  • dried minced onion

Mix sour cream and mayo together.  Add a capful of white vinegar and spices and stir until combined.  Taste, and add another capful of vinegar if you want more zip.  Add more of any spices you desire.  Mix well.  Serve with Zucchini Chips or other veggies.

Click ZIPPY DIP for a printable PDF of this recipe.

The Mushroom Chronicles, Part One: Mushroom Memories

My original artwork, circa 1981

As a child, I was repulsed by the idea of eating fungal growth.  In fact, if my mom put mushrooms anywhere near the dinner table, I would declare in an ominous tone, “There’s a fungus among us,” and stare at them suspiciously as though their mere presence were a death sentence.  At some point I had been warned not to pick and eat unidentified wild mushrooms/toadstools, which instilled a bit of phobia in me.  I saw mushrooms as evil and poisonous, and I was not about to put my life in danger to taste those unattractive beige stems and pieces that came from a tiny can.

My disdain for mushrooms manifested itself not only in the avoidance of consuming them, but also in eliminating those that grew in the grass up north at our cabin.  There was the low-sitting grey variety that would produce a puff of smoke-like spores when stepped on, and the larger white ones that ones that closely resembled golf balls.  In an attempt to rid the yard of the insidious fungus, my sister and I started a little business called Gherkin and Sibling Mushroom Mutilators.  Our highly original motto was, “Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick.” I was about ten or eleven years old, and she was three years my junior.  I had nicknamed her Gherkin for reasons that I no longer remember.  Or maybe I was the Gherkin?  In any case, one of us was the Gherkin, the other was the Sibling, and we used large sticks to whack the hell out of all the mushrooms we could find.  We would then expect payment from our parents for providing this crucial service.  This was one of the many failed money-making ventures of our youth.

Over the years, I got past my dislike for mushrooms, and began to develop an open mind about them.  Didn’t the Smurfs live in mushrooms?  Perhaps that had something to do with my change in attitude.  Anyway, fast forward to about five years ago, when my husband and I were in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  I had progressed to not picking mushrooms off of pizza, and even indulged in the occasional mushroom Swiss burger or portabello sandwich.  We were at a tourist destination that happened to grow its own oyster mushrooms, and so we ordered a plate to sample.  To this day, I still can taste the buttery, garlicky smoothness of what is possibly the most pleasantly memorable snack I have ever had.

Lately, we have been noticing Grow Your Own Mushrooms kits popping up at home shows and farmers’ markets.  Intrigued that they are supposed to produce ‘shrooms similar in taste to oyster mushrooms, we decided to purchase one and give it a try.  Stay tuned for our fungal adventures…

Slaving and Salivating over Strawberries

Freshly made freezer jam/sauce, along with tonight’s strawberry harvest

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and rather than sitting in traffic on I-75 with the rest of southeastern Michigan, Bill and I have decided to have a “stay-cation.”  I’m thinking we may regret this decision in the next few days, as temperatures are supposed to be in the 80s and 90s, and a cabin on the lake would be much more pleasant than our sweltering sun-drenched backyard.  But, alas, the decision has been made.  Our exciting plans include lots of sweating profusely, venturing into Detroit to visit Historic Fort Wayne and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, and trying desperately to keep up with our strawberry crop.

Thanks to an often summer-like spring, our strawberries came in several weeks earlier than usual.  They are in full force now, and a disproportionately large amount of my time has been devoted to picking, coring, and rinsing them….and using them up before they go bad.  But I don’t mind too much because they are oh so tasty!

Besides munching on them with a sprinkle of sugar, here is what we have made so far: Strawberry spinach salad, a pitcher of strawberry mojitos, strawberry-topped vanilla bean ice cream, strawberry smoothies, homemade strawberry banana “ice cream,” and several jars of freezer jam.

My improvised recipe for the smoothies consists of throwing a handful of fresh strawberries into my Magic Bullet blender along with half of a container of Greek yogurt, some crushed ice, milk (Lactaid), and a spoonful of my last jar of freezer jam from 2010.  Sometimes it’s refreshing to drink lunch from a straw, as I did today.

With the hot weather upon us, I’m thankful that I also recently discovered a quick and easy way to make a creamy frozen treat that is very similar in taste and texture to ice cream. Simply slice up a very ripe banana, freeze the pieces, and then purée them to a smooth consistency. Again, I use the Magic Bullet.  It’s the most healthy and natural ice cream you’ll ever have!  A few days ago, I did the banana thing and added in some fresh strawberries.  It had a great flavor, but  it was a tiny bit soupy due to the juiciness of the berries.  Next time, I’ll freeze the strawberries a bit and see if that will make a difference.

Speaking of juicy….my freezer jam is refusing to set up properly.  I followed the recipe in the Sure Jell package to a tee, but after the requisite 24 hours on the kitchen counter it’s not at all firm.  Not sure what went wrong.  The thing I love about freezer jam, though, is that if it turns out runny, it is still perfect for spooning over pancakes, waffles, crepes, ice cream, or adding into smoothies!

 

Celebrate the Green

St. Patrick’s day is all about the green: shamrocks, leprechauns, and a sea of people in green clothing and beads downing green beer. (And celebrating a win for Michigan State in the March Madness tournament last night–go Sparty!).  For me, today was also about the green thumb and Opening Day of gardening season. Our unusually warm weather here in Michigan for the past week or so has caused my yard to begin greening up.  Tufts of grass several inches long have appeared in the backyard, and the grass has sent invasive runners into my flower beds.  I spent a good couple of hours this afternoon out in the glorious sunshine weeding a few of the beds and turning the soil.  I was tempted to keep going, but since my city does not offer yard waste pick-up for another couple of weeks, I decided just to fill up one good-sized container with weeds, and wait on pulling out some of the bigger stuff, like last year’s broccoli.  I didn’t pull it up in the fall, because on occasion I have had broccoli produce through January.  Although we had an exceptionally mild winter this year, the broccoli decided enough was enough and stopped producing right after Thanksgiving.   I was thrilled to have freshly picked broccoli to put on a veggie tray for Thanksgiving dinner, though, giving it just a quick rinse under the faucet before packing it up to bring to my sister’s house.  Who knew that small green bugs exactly the color of broccoli are still around in November?  I sure didn’t.  My dad was the lucky one to figure it out while munching on the crudités.  Twice.

The broccoli is a bleached-out, twisted skeleton of its former self, but other future edibles are greening up in the garden already.  A fresh tangle of chives has emerged from beneath last year’s growth, and my pot of mint is covered in a fragrant carpet of tiny leaves.  The garlic is getting tall, and the raspberry canes are beginning to sprout leaves.   I took a few minutes to sow some early lettuce seeds and sugar snap peas, which I didn’t get a chance to do last spring because the weather was so lousy.  I’m hoping this warm weather continues, even if it means having to cut the lawn while it is still technically winter.

So, with some hard work done for the day, it’s time to shower up, don some green garb and beads, and head out to celebrate the rest of St. Patrick’s day.  Cheers!

Caramel Apple Pork Chops with Butternut Squash Risotto

What a gorgeous week we’ve had here in Michigan!  If you are like every other person I’ve talked to, chances are that you’ve taken advantage of this lovely weather by braving the swarming yellow jackets and visiting a cider mill.  Besides feasting on some of those crispy-on-the-outside-warm-and-fluffy-on-the-inside donuts (insert Homer Simpson drool here), you probably also picked a bunch of apples.

Here is an idea for dinner that practically screams “Autumn!” and will allow you to use up some of those apples.  It’s basically a take on the Peter Brady “pork chopppssshh…and appleshaush” that turns the pork chop into a vehicle to be slathered with a buttery sweet and tangy homemade apple topping.  Your house will smell heavenly while this is cooking!  I served it this evening with a side of butternut squash risotto from (gasp!) a box.  Yes, since I was making one dish from scratch already, I went for the easy and tasty accompaniment of boxed Lundberg Butternut Squash Risotto.  I already had two pans going on the stove for the Caramel Apple Pork Chops, so the microwave directions for the risotto were way convenient, and the hint of ginger in this side dish played nicely with the nutmeg and cinnamon in the apple sauce.  I do have some plain arborio rice in the cupboard, so perhaps I will feel ambitious one day and try a risotto recipe with fresh butternut squash.  If I do, I’ll let you know how it turns out. 🙂

I found this recipe for Caramel Apple Pork Chops online a couple of years ago and now look forward to making it every fall!   Speaking of fall flavors… I think I will now have to pour myself some Witches Brew wine, warm it up, and toss in a cinnamon stick…

CARAMEL APPLE PORK CHOPS: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/caramel-apple-pork-chops/detail.aspx

Here are a few notes:

  • I choose to make the apple sauce first, then let it simmer while cooking the pork chops, rather than the other way around as suggested in the recipe.  I’m sure it would work fine either way.
  • When making the apple sauce, I first saute’ about 1/4 cup of slivered onions in the butter for a couple of minutes before adding the apples and spices.  The onions give the sauce a bit of tang and keep it from being too sweet.
  • Since I am cooking for two people, I only fry up two pork chops, but make the full amount of sauce, so that we can really load up on the deliciousness–so if you are cooking for 4, double the measurements for the sauce if you want lots of it!
  • Use real butter in the sauce.  Yep.  No margarine or olive oil substitutions this time.