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Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Cucumber-iffic Meal with Special Guest Appearances by Zucchini, Cherry Tomatoes, Purple Pepper & Basil

Giant cucumbers picked recently:  10.   Cucumbers left at the end of the day yesterday: 0.  Whew!  Lucky for us, our cleaning lady likes cucumbers and took a few off of our hands.  We delivered a couple more–along with a monster zucchini–to some friends.  (Bonus:  Got some homemade blackberry jam in return that we can’t wait to break into!)  Bill made some experimental pickles with a couple more, and finally, we finished them off by using making some cucumber-based recipes for dinner with Bill’s parents.

To serve with our appetizers, we prepared Tzatziki sauce for the first time.  We followed the recipe on that one exactly, except that our cucumbers are not English cucumbers.  I wrangled as much water as I could out of the shredded cuke by salting it and mashing it between paper towels and then using centrifugal force in the salad spinner.  We were glad that we chose to add the optional dill, since that really enhanced the taste.  The sauce turned out nice and thick, and we paired it with both mini pita breads and Fried Zucchini “Crab” Cakes.  Just a tip:  Unless you are actively trying to repel vampires, it is not advisable to use Garlic Cloves of Unusual Size, like we did.  Regular sized cloves would be quite sufficient.  Although, we did sit outside all evening and I didn’t get a single mosquito bite, so perhaps the pungent garlic scent emanating from my every pore kept those blood-sucking demons at bay.

The Fried Zucchini “Crab” Cakes were a spur-of-the-moment decision by Bill, who wisely began preparing them without my knowledge while I was on the computer blogging.  By the time his parents arrived and I saw that he had a pan of EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE oil on the barbecue with fire licking up around it, there was not much I could do except for whimper softly and internally berate myself for always forgetting to buy a fire extinguisher.  Fortunately, all turned out well.  The cakes were crispy and delicious, and we did not have to bother the nice men at the fire department.  When making the cakes, Bill used Panko breadcrumbs and seasoned them with paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper–rather than Old Bay.

For our dinner, Bill grilled up some steaks and I put together a Quinoa Greek Salad.  Quinoa (keen-wa) is such an intriguing little grain.  It has a good deal of protein, which I love, since I am prone to getting dizzy and shaky between meals if I eat too many carbs.  So, I actively seek out sources of protein such as Greek yogurt (used in the Tzatziki), nuts, and soy-enhanced cereal and meal replacement bars.  This salad was lemony and refreshing, and I definitely will be adding it to our regular rotation.  I stuck to the recipe fairly closely, except that rather than red and green bell peppers, I used a purple pepper from the garden.  I also added some of our cherry tomatoes, but served the feta cheese on the side, since Bill’s parents are not big on it.  Also, I lightly browned the quinoa in a bit of butter before adding the chicken stock in order give it a bit of a toasted flavor.

TZATZIKI: http://www.food.com/recipe/tzatziki-59336

FRIED ZUCCHINI “CRAB” CAKES: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/connies-zucchini-crab-cakes/detail.aspx

QUINOA GREEK SALAD:  http://www.food.com/recipe/quinoa-greek-salad-97764

Choppin’ Broccoliiiiiiiii

Our broccoli has broccoli-fied!  This joyful occurrence led me to page through our recipes in search of a dish with specific criteria:

  1. It had to contain broccoli, naturally.
  2. It needed to be a main course.  Bill was up to his elbows in cucumbers making pickles (recipe to come) and had not taken out any meat to cook for dinner, nor was he intending to do so.  This meant that I was in charge of the full meal, rather than just the usual side dish.
  3. It had to contain ingredients that we had on hand.

Criterion #3 is always a bit tricky.  It’s annoying to find a fun recipe, and then have to make a special trip to the store to buy a bunch of ingredients.  Especially if they are weird ingredients that are unlikely to be used again.  A friend of mine had a solution to this all-too-common problem, and told me about this cool cookbook, The Stocked Kitchen by Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins.  It contains over 300 recipes that can be made using one grocery list.  The idea is to keep your kitchen stocked with the items on the list and never have to worry about what to make.   Sounded perfect for us!  So, I bought a copy from amazon.com as a Christmas gift for Bill.  We have yet to use it.  Why?  Because in order to have a well-stocked pantry, having an actual pantry is kind of a necessity.

The “pantry” in our miniscule kitchen consists of three shelves in the cupboards above our microwave (see picture).   The only other spot we have to store food is a small cupboard above the stove, which is where the TALL ITEMS, such as cereal boxes and gallon-sized rum bottles are kept.  We keep many non-refrigerator foods in the refrigerator–such as flour and sugar–just because we have room in there.  And to keep bugs out.  If we don’t have a pantry, then we shouldn’t have to worry about pantry pests, right?  So, although we already have many of the things on The Stocked Pantry grocery list, we simply do not have room for the rest of them.  I hope to figure out something soon, though, since I would like to try the recipes.  For the time being, I have to do some artful arranging to fit everything inside of the cupboard, and then dodge falling items with my cat-like reflexes when I am searching for something.

Last night, I settled on a recipe for Chicken Broccoli Supper, and while I was exploring the “pantry” to see what kind of noodles we had, I was attacked by a bottle of barbecue sauce that decided to jump from the top shelf.  Missing my temple by mere centimeters, it bounced off the edge of my Salad Spinner and sent a chunk of the Salad Spinner’s lid flying clear across the kitchen (I found it later in the fruit bowl).  This made me very cranky, since my Salad Spinner is one of my Highly Regarded kitchen tools that I use often. But at least dinner turned out OK, even if it was not particularly photogenic.

I’ve attached a link to the inspirational recipe below, but if you follow it, it really won’t be what I made because I changed a lot of things.  First of all, I measured nothing. When scavenging, I found some pasta shells, so I used up what I had left and thawed a few chicken tenders in the microwave.  I used cream of mushroom soup, rather than cream of chicken and vegetable stock instead of chicken broth.  After 30 minutes in the oven, when I took it out to stir it, everything was cooked through but it tasted a bit bland.  So I hit it with some Tabasco sauce and topped it with a four cheese Italian blend.  After a few more minutes in the oven to melt the cheese, it was ready to go.  It was tasty and cheesy, but a bit beige. If I were to make this again, I think I would steam the broccoli to a pretty green color and serve it on top of the pasta and chicken, just to add some brightness.  Baking the broccoli makes it kind of dull and lifeless to look at, and I prefer my broccoli happy, green and crunchy.

CHICKEN BROCCOLI SUPPER

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-broccoli-supper/detail.aspx

Zucchini Brownies??? Rock On!

Zucchini Brownie

So, yesterday I made a batch of gooey chocolate-y brownies with the help of my trusty iPod and was delighted to discover that I do indeed possess the coordination to hold and mix a bowl of dry ingredients while simultaneously doing the Cupid Shuffle. Also, I’ve found that some songs are better than others when it is time to stir the dry ingredients into the wet. Just like hitting a baseball, I feel that it helps to get the hips into the process (although I am admittedly way better at mixing batter than being a batter). Over my last couple of baking sessions, the following tunes proved to have just the right batter mixing rhythm: “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite, “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani, “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” by Journey, most Run DMC songs, and one of Kid Rock’s classier titles, “#$%@ You Blind.”

However, I’ve found that other songs, such as many by Green Day and Buckcherry, are too fast-paced for batter mixing, and would be better suited for the frantic task of whipping egg whites and sugar into a frothy meringue.

The best thing about getting a dance workout in the kitchen is that afterwards I feel I’ve earned the right to indulge a bit on products of my labor, beginning with the batter. This is another recipe in which eggs are not used, so the batter is completely safe to eat–and extremely delicious. Just try to avoid making the same mistake that a friend and I made in our seventh grade Home Ec. class: we only ended up with one cookie from a recipe that was supposed to make a dozen, because the batter was so darn good. Needless to say, our grade on that project was less than stellar.

If you have any self-control, this recipe should make a 9″ x 13″ pan of brownies, which are a bit lighter and more cake-like than the dense, oily, chewy ones that come from a box. Nobody will have any idea that these brownies contain zucchini unless you tell them, so you can enjoy the feeling of sneaking vegetables into your unsuspecting children’s dessert! The recipe says to fold in the zucchini at the end, but I found that without the zucchini the batter became almost too dry and difficult to mix, causing me to rely on an angry Limp Bizkit song to pull me through it. So, my suggestion would be to incorporate the shredded zucchini with the wet ingredients immediately, and then add the dry to the wet.  As usual, I used white whole wheat flour and substituted unsweetened applesauce for the oil.  I forgot to buy walnuts this time, but I usually put them in unless I am baking for my Dad, who prefers nut-free foods.

ZUCCHINI BROWNIES

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/zucchini-brownies/detail.aspx

Fantastic Zucchini Bread

I will begin this post with an appropriate anecdote from this month’s Reader’s Digest, which is THE magazine to turn to for anecdotes–or articles short enough so that one’s legs don’t fall asleep reading them while sitting on the john.

I visited my daughter bearing gifts: summer squash from my garden. 

“What should I do with them?” she asked. 

“Whatever you would do with zucchini,” I said. 

“All right, we’ll give them to our neighbor.”

–Harold Silver, Neenah, WI

Those of us who grow zucchini or other prolific vegetables are all too familiar with this seasonal situation. Unfortunately, Bill and I don’t know our neighbors.  Yes, we have lived in the same house for six years, but the people on our street either keep to themselves or are so blatantly nasty that we have come up with creative derogatory nicknames for them.  The only neighbor that we do know–that is, we exchange pleasantries with him over the fence on occasion–has his own vegetable garden, which gives him the right to be exempt from our offerings.  So, our solution for getting rid of excess produce is to either:  a) force it upon friends and family or b) arrange the veggies in a basket on a little folding table near the sidewalk with catchy advertising, such as: “Free Organically Grown Monster Zucchini.”

We quickly discovered that people would more readily accept vegetables–especially weird or grotesquely sized ones–if accompanied by a recipe sheet.  The summer that spaghetti squash ran rampant all over our fence, we gave them away along with the eloquently titled sheet: “What the #@&! do I do with Spaghetti Squash?”  Our zucchini was presented with a paper entitled, “Zucchini is Fun!”  Both recipe pages were illustrated with clip art portraying chipper and wholesome people from the 1950s.  I felt that this would invoke nostalgia for a simpler time, when apron-clad cooking with home grown vegetables was the norm.

Included on the “Zucchini is Fun” page is the recipe below for zucchini bread.  After testing a few different recipes the first year that we had our garden, we chose to add this one to our permanent collection.  It makes two moist and flavorful loaves, and is delicious plain, or topped with butter, margarine, peanut butter, or jam.  A big tasty chunk for breakfast, along with a caffeine-laden cup of coffee, is a great way to start the day!  Alternately, the recipe could make 24 muffins, or mix and match to make one loaf and 12 muffins.

Forgive me, but I do not remember where this recipe originated:

FANTASTIC ZUCCHINI BREAD

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. oil or unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 c. raw zucchini, grated
  • 3 c. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine all the “wet” ingredients and the brown sugar in a large bowl, and combine all the dry ingredients in another bowl.
  3. Slowly add the dry to the wet, stirring well after each addition.
  4. Add chopped walnuts, if desired.
  5. Pour into two greased loaf pans.
  6. Bake loaves for approximately one hour.  I begin checking for done-ness with a toothpick at about 45 minutes, and will sometimes cover the loaves with foil to keep them from browning too much while the center finishes cooking.  Muffins take about 20 minutes.

Click FANTASTIC ZUCCHINI BREAD for a printable PDF of this recipe.

Ryan’s Favorite Raspberry Jam

Ryan's Favorite Raspberry Jam

Our first attempt at making raspberry jam was last summer, and it was spectacular–if I do say so myself. We filled three jelly jars: one we ate immediately, one went up north to our family’s cabin to share, and one went into the freezer to save for the winter. The flavor was just as fresh and perfect after months in the freezer as it was when it was first made, and the consistency was just right.

My mom likes to tell the story about the jar of jam that I left at the cabin. Apparently, my then six-year-old nephew, Ryan, decided that it paired well with the zucchini bread that I had baked. Although I was not there to witness it, I’m told that Ryan absolutely devoured large quantities of jam on the bread and could have gone through another couple of jars without hesitation. So, this recipe is dedicated to Ryan. I hope to bring another jar of jam up to the cabin for the family to enjoy, and maybe drop off one at Ryan’s house–as long as he’s willing to share with the rest of his family. Zucchini bread’s ready, too! (Recipe to come…)

This year, we sealed the jam in a water bath, rather than freezing it, and had enough berries to fill an extra jar. 2 cups of picked berries is just about 1 cup of crushed berries. The following recipe uses the 2-3-4 method of cooking–which you’ll understand when you read it–and no pectin is needed.

RASPBERRY JAM

http://www.food.com/recipe/raspberry-jam-35192

WATER BATH CANNING

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1jpyXPdCRE&feature=youtu.be

Mmm…Pie…

The massive raspberry bush that towers over our garden started out innocently enough.  A friend had bought a house with an overabundance of landscaping, and he was looking to simplify by getting rid of a few of the yard’s many beds.  Bill and I went over to take a look, and returned home with a rose bush, some blanket flowers and a chunk of a raspberry plant.  The cheery red and yellow blanket flowers found a new home in our front flower bed, the rose bush went next to the house, and we transplanted the raspberry plant in a corner of our vegetable garden.

The rose bush bit the dust not long after we adopted it, but the blanket flowers are still going strong.  And to say that the raspberry bush thrived is an understatement.  If we had not taken preventative measures, it would cover our entire garden by now.  The plant sends out little creeping runners, which if left unchecked, will develop into  new canes.  As our garden is not very large, and we were tiring of constantly weeding mini raspberry canes, we came up with a plan:  We would install a barrier to keep the plant corralled within its allotted garden plot.  After looking at different options, we settled on 12″ metal flashing.  We figured in a few minutes we could dig around the perimeter of the raspberry bush, install the flashing, and voila–instant raspberry fence.

What we failed to remember was that when we moved into the house six years ago, a large tree stood only a couple of feet from the raspberry bush’s current home.  And trees have roots.  Which are very thick near the base of the tree.  So, installing the flashing became a chore that took several hours and quite a bit of sweating, sawing and swearing.

Our tricky raspberry bush still sneaks some runners under the flashing on occasion just to keep us on our toes, but they are not nearly as invasive as they used to be.  The now-restrained 4′ – 6′ raspberry canes produce a beautiful abundant crop of plump red berries each July that we use in many recipes, including the mouth-watering pie, below.  The recipe is extremely simple if you buy pre-made frozen pie crust, but if you want to make your own–hey, knock yourself out.  A slice of this juicy, slightly tart pie with vanilla bean ice cream is a heavenly combination. However, since I made the pie up north at our cottage this week with groceries and ingredients transported in a cooler, we were sans ice cream this time.  Oh well.  Guess I’ll have to make it again!

NOTE:  The first time I made this recipe exactly as written, and it was very soupy.  This time I added about 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and it was just right.  Also, in the oven I was using,  I had to bake it about 10 minutes longer than instructed.

RASPBERRY PIE

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/raspberry-pie-ii/detail.aspx

Zucchini on the Grill

Grilled Zucchini with Feta and Chives

If we manage to rescue a zucchini from the garden when it is a manageable size, rather than letting it grow into an enormous monstrosity, one of our tried and true ways to prepare it is on the grill.  Or, rather, one of Bill’s ways to prepare it is on the grill.

I am not a griller.  Although I am a reformed gas-stove-a-phobe, my uneasy trust of flammable gases and liquids does not extend to barbecues.   I have no problem getting in touch with my primitive side and reigning over a big bonfire–as long as it’s not windy.  I just don’t like lighting things that could potentially explode.  Being first time owners of tiki torches this summer, I gladly let Bill handle the job of setting them ablaze for their backyard debut.  But alas, he wasn’t home last night when I had some girlfriends over, leaving me to face the duties of BBQ-ing, tiki torch lighting and campfire-building.  Chicken Shack kindly took care of the grilling for me, and the campfire gods cooperated and gave me a nice windless night.   As dusk approached, I warily eyed the flimsy torches, which appear to be made of dry kindling and paradoxically filled with flammable citronella fluid.  My desire to have mosquito-free air eventually outweighed my fear of a flash fire, so making sure that the hose was nearby, I managed to appear outwardly calm as I fired up each wick.   Success!

Although I have now conquered fire in two different backyard situations, I am content to let Bill continue on as the grillmaster.  He is good at it, and most importantly, he is not afraid of applying fire to an apparatus attached to a tank of gas.  Here are a couple of easy and fuss-free ways that he has cooked zucchini on the grill.  The Zucchini with Feta and Chives is a recipe I found in  this month’s issue of Women’s Day magazine, where it was shown paired with lemon chicken skewers.   We chose to serve it with burgers.  The Parmesan Zucchini is our go-to zucchini side, and we usually have it several times each summer.

ZUCCHINI WITH FETA AND CHIVES

Slice zucchini in half lengthwise and season with salt and pepper.  Brush with olive oil or spray with cooking spray.  Place pieces on grill for approximately 10 minutes, turning halfway through.  Cut into slices, squeeze some fresh lemon on top and sprinkle with feta cheese and chives.

PARMESAN ZUCCHINI

Slice zucchini into rounds.  Season with salt and pepper and place on a sheet of foil.  Add a bit of parmesan cheese and fresh minced garlic to taste, and drizzle with olive oil.  (Or,  use pats of butter instead of the olive oil, which is Bill’s preference).   Form foil into a packet and place on the grill.  Remove when your meat is done, and sprinkle with more parmesan cheese, if desired.