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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Let’s Hear it for Simplicity

One of the best things about having a garden is being able to enjoy foods at their absolute freshest–moments after being plucked from the plant.  This past week, we picked our purple pepper and enjoyed an impromptu snack with just a pinch of salt.  We harvested our tiny crop of sugar snap peas and popped them in our mouths without any adornment or cooking.  And this morning, I collected a handful of juicy, ripe raspberries and ate them for breakfast seconds later atop some plain Greek yogurt.  As the tin sign in my guest bedroom says, sometimes it’s nice to “Live Simply.”

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Soft and Delicious Zucchini Spice Cookies

Today’s zucchini recipe was created with the assistance of two very handy small appliances. The first is my Salad Shooter. You may recall the commercials for these things several years ago, and their little song: “Salad Shoo-TERRRRR!” The first year that I was faced with massive amounts of zucchini awaiting shredding, I knew that a hand grater was not going to cut it. So, I found a great deal on a Salad Shooter on eBay. I was particularly charmed by this model’s Transformer-like ability to morph into a hand mixer. When you have a kitchen as small as ours, it is important that appliances can do double duty and not take up too much space. For its usefulness, my Salad Shooter/Hand Mixer has earned a coveted spot in a kitchen cabinet, rather than a home in the basement with the secondary appliances.

The other appliance that was of great help in making this recipe was my iPod. I have a little iPod touch that I tend to use mainly while on my treadmill or when drowning out screaming babies on airplanes. As I began to gather the ingredients for my cookies, I noticed that my husband was lightly napping on the couch, lulled to sleep by the gentle drama of the Maury Povich show on TV. I didn’t want to wake him by changing the channel, but I also did not care to listen to the outcome of today’s baby-daddy paternity test while baking. So, I employed the drowning-out capabilities of the iPod and blissfully rocked out some Zucchini Spice Cookies.

I found this recipe online a few years ago when I was undergoing food-allergy testing and had to eliminate many foods from my diet, and then slowly introduce them back in. This recipe is egg-free and can also be made without the nuts. I understand that raisins go well with these, but I don’t do raisins–they remind me of bugs. If you like to eat batter as much as you like to eat the cookies, then this is a good choice; you can lick the bowl or the spoon without worrying about raw-egg cooties. The other thing I like about this recipe is its consistent measurements. Everything is measured by the cup or teaspoon, leading to fewer dishes to wash, and no tragedy if I mix up baking soda and baking powder. I apologize for not giving props to its creator; I could not find the orginal website for this one.

These cookies are puffy and cake-like, almost like a muffin top. The spice flavor is very mild; if you like more zip you may want to increase the nutmeg or add in some ginger. This time, I used white whole-wheat flour, applesauce instead of oil, and mixed in some walnuts. I cool them on newspaper and store them in plastic containers, separated by layers of wax paper so they don’t stick together. I cannot stop eating them, as they are perfect for dessert, for a snack or for breakfast with coffee. I also think they would be fabulous with some Vernor’s ice cream sandwiched between them…

ZUCCHINI SPICE COOKIES

 Ingredients

2 c. brown sugar (ok to use half brown, half regular sugar)

2 c. grated zucchini

1 c. oil

4 c. flour

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

1  cup chopped nuts and/or raisins. Good without, too.  Or just top with a nut or raisin.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix wet ingredients and sugar together in one bowl.

Mix dry ingredients in another bowl.  Bit by bit, stir dry ingredients into wet.  Drop by heaping spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 12 to 14 minutes—until bottom edges look golden. (Check at 10 minutes).

Makes approx. 3 dozen, depending on size of cookies.

Click ZUCCHINI SPICE COOKIES for a printable PDF of this recipe.

They’re Hee-eere: Invasion of the Monster Zucchini

Monster Zucchini

When I took a quick peek at the garden yesterday morning, I noted with excitement that we had a few zucchini that were ready to be picked. I relegated that task to the early evening, though, because as soon as the sun hits our garden in the morning it signals hordes of stinging pollinators to wake up and begin guarding our plants.  If  I try to set foot within the garden border when the sun is out, I am dive-bombed until I run shrieking for cover.  Because of this, I do most of my weeding and harvesting on cloudy days or in the early evening.

My timing was off yesterday.  By the time I made it back to the garden, it was dusk, and cicadas–or whatever they are–were buzzing loudly in the trees.  The large aggressive stinging insects had indeed retired for the day, but a new shift had taken over: sneaky subversive blood-sucking mosquitoes.  As I began collecting raspberries, they formulated their attack.  They focused primarily on my left knee (3 bites), and then creatively moved to my right hand (2 bites).  One brave little soldier had the nerve to go for the outer corner of my left eye. Once it had properly swollen up, that bite was particularly attractive.

I figure that for every mosquito bite I endured, I picked  maybe two or three raspberries.   Covered in itchy welts and muttering curse words that were scaring the neighbor’s dog, I soon retreated from the garden and begged my husband to sacrifice himself and go in for the zucchini.  Which he did.

How is it that in approximately seven hours, zucchini can go from being normal grocery-store-sized little squashes to behemoths that a preschooler could use as a whiffle-ball bat?  We were suddenly faced with abundant large zucchini, the likes of which we usually don’t encounter until later in the season.  We took one to his parents’ house today as a thanks-for-taking-us-on-the-boat gift.  Tomorrow will be a day of cooking and/or baking, but I haven’t decided what I feel like making with them.  On my summer bowling league, I am notorious for bringing our excess zucchini and a variety of baked zucchini goods for several weeks:  cookies, brownies, muffins and of course zucchini bread.

Zucchini season has officially begun.  Stay tuned for the recipes…

Fishing for Compliments? Make Farfalle with Asparagus and Smoked Salmon!

Yes, we used basil from our garden in today’s featured recipe, but this dish is not about basil; the star is smoked salmon. If you had told me a week ago–heck, a day ago–that I would be feasting on smoked salmon, my response would have been, “Ewww.”

I am not particularly fond of fish. Tuna fish mixed with Miracle Whip and onions has been the extent of my seafood consumption for most of my life. Sometimes I can eat shrimp, but other times it grosses me out. Especially when there are feet. Or frightening long antennae that touch me from the plate (see picture of Scary Prawn). I have been trying to eat more fish, though, because I know it is healthy. In the past year I have developed a taste for the fish sliders at Seeburger’s Cheeseburgers in Mount Clemens, and I have tried various fish tacos that I truly like. I can also eat fish and chips, as long as I have unlimited tartar sauce. I know that pretty much negates the healthiness of the fish, as does the deep-frying, but I’m taking baby steps.

I was not particularly interested when Bill decided to smoke some salmon in the smoker that his parents got him for Christmas. I have tried smoked salmon in the past and do not care for it unless it is disguised with mounds of cream cheese. But, this was the debut of the smoker, and Bill was really into it, so when the fish was done I bravely tried a piece. Surprise: it was tasty and not at all fishy! We have been enjoying it on bagels and crackers with the requisite cream cheese, and the recipe that we discovered last night for dinner was too delicious not to share. The link to the recipe is below.

We have clay soil, so we have not attempted cultivating our own asparagus patch. Therefore, the main veggie in this dish was store-bought. We didn’t actually measure any of the ingredients. We just eyeballed everything according to our taste, and also added some chopped sun-dried tomatoes. The result was an incredibly light, fresh dish that we ate as a complete meal. The briny, smokey taste of the salmon is perfect with the lemon and bow-tie pasta. And when you get a chunk of pistachio or sun-dried tomato, it is a happy little surprise. We had seconds, and then thirds, raving all the while. Being that Bill is not big on asparagus, and I previously shunned salmon, this dish was a surprising hit!

FARFALLE WITH ASPARAGUS AND SMOKED SALMON: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/farfalle-with-asparagus-and-smoked-salmon/detail.aspx

Ja Makin’ Coleslaw Tonight? Ya, Mon!

Jamaican Coleslaw

Beautiful turquoise seas, white sand, rest and relaxation…sounds good to me! A lucky and well-deserving friend of mine will be experiencing a slice of that tropical paradise on her upcoming honeymoon to Jamaica. So, in anticipation of the trip, we had to try out some Jamaican flavors. We sampled some baked sweet plantains (healthier and less likely to set my kitchen on fire than deep-fried), rum punch, Jamaican-inspired banana bread, and coleslaw with a kick–enhanced with Jamaican jerk seasoning. I saw multiple recipes for Jamaican coleslaw online and was intrigued by the idea, but I specifically chose to try one that did not use mayonnaise. I don’t have anything against mayonnaise, really, though you might have formed that opinion after seeing some of my other posts. It’s just that I’ve gone to, and hosted, a few cook-outs this year, and I prefer to make things that stand up for a bit longer without refrigeration.

So, I started with the basic recipe below and played with it a bit. Most noticeably, I cut some corners since I was doing a lot of cooking in one day; I used McCormick Perfect Pinch Caribbean Jerk seasoning instead of making my own, and a 16 oz bagged slaw mix (my garden cabbages are just starting to form heads).  After chilling the slaw for a few hours, it was a little dry, and the jerk flavor was pretty intense. Not wanting to kill my bride-to-be friend, who has a low tolerance for spice, I stirred up and poured on a bit more dressing to moisten the slaw and sweeten the taste: 1 tbsp cider vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp of sugar.  If you are tempted to try this recipe, I would suggest initially using half the recommended amount of jerk seasoning, tasting it, and adding more to suit your tolerance for heat.    The spice is pleasant and secondary, creeping up as an afterthought, so be sure to have some Red Stripe beer or rum punch to wash it down!  When my cabbage is ready to pick, I will definitely make this again for its sweet, spicy and nutty taste.

NOTE:  Although the other recipes that we tested did not have  ingredients that grow in my Michigan garden, I put links to them below in case you want to check them out.  All were very good!

JAMAICAN COLESLAW

  • 4 cups shredded cabbage
  • 3/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dry jerk seasoning

Combine cabbage, carrots and nuts in a large bowl. In another small container, mix sugar, cider vinegar and jerk seasoning.  Pour dressing over cabbage mixture; toss to coat. Cover and chill before serving. If  slaw is too dry or too spicy, mix together 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Toss into salad.

OVEN-BAKED SWEET PLANTAINShttp://www.food.com/recipe/oven-baked-sweet-plantains-80130  This one was made exactly as the recipe directed.  A very interesting, yummy taste.

JAMAICAN BANANA BREADhttp://allrecipes.com/Recipe/we-be-jammin-jamaican-banana-bread/detail.aspx  I followed other reviewers’ suggestions and used a 350 degree oven, which was perfect.  I put all the nuts in the bread, and drizzled the glaze with coconut on top and let it seep into holes I poked with a skewer.  It made one 9″x5″ loaf and one baby 6″x4″ loaf.  The glaze really gave it some zip!

RUM PUNCHhttp://www.jamaica-no-problem.com/rum-punch.html  Here is my variation:  The “sour” was lime juice, the “sweet” was plain simple syrup, the “strong” was a combo of light rum, coconut rum, and beer, and the “weak” was fruit punch.  It was tasty, but quite sweet.  I poured more beer in mine, and it was perfect!

Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie and Mediterranean Salad

Mediterranean Salad

“We love baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet…” Remember that catchy tune to the Chevy commercial that came to represent the quintessential basics of America? Depending on your age, here’s a link to either a walk down memory lane or a history lesson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_Y-2vlOegI&NR=1

A few years back, that ad campaign was revived and updated to reflect our modern era: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rYXmWY9HY4

Today is the day to celebrate all things American, and as the more recent Chevy commercial shows, the things that we love about our country–and baseball–have evolved to be as diverse as each of us living here. The United States is often described as a melting pot, where different ideas and cultures have melded together to make a uniquely American identity, as immortalized in this Schoolhouse Rock classic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpggZ9hDxC4

Another metaphor is to liken our nation of immigrants and descendants of immigrants to a tossed salad, where each individual is able to mix together but still retain its own individuality. Putting different flavors together is the American way, be it with people or with food. So, in the spirit of celebrating a bit of the essence of our hodgepodge country this Fourth of July, I have to share a recipe for a tossed salad of sorts that was recently passed along to me by my friend, Michelle. She brought this dish to a party, and I could not get enough of it. It uses two of my favorite herbs that we grow in our garden, basil and mint, and combines them with sweet and chewy dried cranberries, crunchy almonds, tangy lemon and a fun, tiny little pasta called couscous. Michelle made the recipe sans mint to suit her taste; this week I tested the recipe exactly as written. Both versions were delicious! And the chilled leftovers were perfect for lunch the next day.

So, if you are heading to a Fourth of July picnic and need a simple dish to bring–and don’t want something mayonnaise-based–give it a try. It will fit in just fine with the hot dogs and apple pie and will be mighty refreshing after a game of baseball. Thanks to “Lovely Lady Liberty, with her book of recipes…,” Michelle, and Giada De Laurentiis for this one!

MEDITERANNEAN SALAD

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/mediterranean-salad-recipe/index.html

Cheater, Cheater, Greek Orzo Salad Eater

Greek Orzo Salad

One of the reasons for my starting this blog was to share recipes using ingredients from my own garden. The downside of using seasonal ingredients is that sometimes my desire to make a certain dish is not in sync with my garden’s production schedule. This necessitates cheating and using store-bought veggies instead, which was the case with the Greek Orzo Salad that I made for the Fourth of July shindig that we had last night. I was looking for something that could feed an undetermined number of people, go well with burgers and hot dogs, and be okay sitting out for a while. So, despite its ethnic name and ingredients, I found this to be the perfect side dish to help celebrate our country’s birthday. A trip to Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace took care of the produce this time around. I plan to make this again when our own cukes and tomatoes are ready, but I’m posting the recipe now, because people asked about it and eagerly took home almost all the leftovers –I made a bit much!

There are several variations on this recipe out there, so modify it however you see fit. I began with one that I found on AllRecipes.com a couple of years back and put my own little spin on it. Here is the link to the original, and below is how I tweaked it to my own taste in an attempt to feed possibly 15-20 people: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/greek-orzo-salad/detail.aspx

GREEK ORZO SALAD

Ingredients:

• 2 cups uncooked orzo

• 3 tbsp butter or margarine

• 29 oz water

• 2 (6.5 oz) jars marinated artichoke hearts

• 1 tomato, seeded and chopped

• 2 cucumbers, seeded and chopped

• ½ large red onion, chopped

• 1 ½ cups feta cheese

• 1 (2 oz) can black olives, drained

• ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

• Juice of ½ lemon

• ½ tsp dried oregano

• Approx. 3 oz Italian or Greek salad dressing (I had some left over from lunch at a local pizzeria and decided to toss it in)

Directions:

1. Melt butter or margarine in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in orzo and sauté until lightly browned.

2. Stir in water and bring to a boil. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Take off heat, fluff with a fork, and set aside until mostly cooled.

3. Drain and chop artichoke hearts, reserving marinade.

4. In a large bowl, combine artichokes, tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, olives, parsley and lemon juice. When orzo has cooled, add it to the mixture and toss everything together.

5. Chill for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

6. Just before serving, drizzle about 3 oz of artichoke marinade and the Italian or Greek dressing over salad and toss again.