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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I originally named this blog Grow.Pick.Eat, it referred to gardening and trying out recipes made from the freshly picked berries and veggies.  Now, as summer winds down, I find that it has taken on a whole new meaning:  My ass and waistline have begun to GROW, causing me to PICK out larger sized items from my closet to wear, because all I have done this summer is sit around and EAT the goodies that Bill and I have cooked and baked.

So much for the unintentional–but not unwelcome–fifteen pound weight loss that I experienced last school year.  My feeble immune system was not prepared to fend off  the aggressive and icky germs passed on to me by the six-year-olds in my classroom, so I was sick almost constantly. Also, I have a hard time eating when I am stressed and anxious, and since stress and anxiety were my constant companions for several months, I pretty much subsisted on red wine.  (Admittedly not the healthiest way to lose weight, but it was that kind of year).   Before I knew it, my pants were hanging so low that I felt like a teenage gangsta, which was not a particularly flattering look for a suburban white female who can’t even say the word “gangsta” without sounding ridiculous.  So, I went out and purchased a brand new and much smaller-sized wardrobe–and proudly left all the size tags in.

Now, however, those new clothes are feeling uncomfortably snug.  I am not even sure if I can get into my dress pants (purchased in the Juniors’ section, thank you very much), and with the new school year starting soon, I sure hope I don’t bust a seam when I sit down at our first staff meeting or bend over to tie a little one’s shoe.  And I am afraid to weigh myself on my Wii Fit, because it will yell at me for being a slacker or perhaps make a snide comment about how long it has been since I last exercised.

Therefore, this will be my last post involving baking for a while.  I really need to lay off the carb-saturated baked treats and try to cook more figure friendly dishes until I can button things again.   Tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage are coming in strong right now, and lucky for me, they are not conducive to making breads, cookies and pies.  I will focus upcoming blog posts mostly on those three veggies.  But our shriveled and spent zucchini plant gave us one last monster squash, so I dutifully made up a batch of fluffy and sweet cookies to celebrate the end of its life and the end of summer vacation.    Think I’ll pour myself a glass of red wine and find the recipe for you…

Here it is:

ZUCCHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES:  http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/chocolate-chip-cookies-vi/detail.aspx

Notes:

  • I usually use half brown sugar, half white sugar.
  • Rather than finely chop the zucchini, I shred it.  With my trusty Salad Shooter, of course.
  • 3/4 cup of chocolate chips is not nearly enough.  I put in a whole 6 oz bag of them–at least.
  • This time, I added some Heath toffee pieces, because Bill saw them in the baking aisle and wanted to try them.  Mmmm.

P.S.  I am surprised that my spell check recognizes the word “gangsta.”  That makes me a cringe just a little bit.

Julie’s Homemade “I Can Do It” Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti with my Homemade Meat Sauce

Since this post is about my making my own homemade spaghetti sauce, the context of the experience would be incomplete without the story of how I set water on fire in my early spaghetti making days.  Yes, folks, for years afterward I considered myself such a horrible cook that I could even set water on fire.  This incident happened back when I was in high school, and was one of three major kitchen mishaps of my youth–the other two being The Great Mustard War and the Wall Oven Meatloaf Disaster.  There were also intentionally horrifying culinary creations that originated in my parents’ long ago kitchen, with its turquoise boomerang formica countertops, blond wood cabinets and built-in Carol Brady oven.  Those, however, are stories for another day.

Setting water on fire was particularly mortifying to me because it happened when I was cooking what was supposed to be a romantic dinner for my date.  Also, because my date was the kind who would never let me live it down.  There I was, about sixteen years old, trying to impress my boyfriend with my domesticity.  When he arrived at my house, I had the Ragu-based meat sauce simmering and the salad all ready to go.  All that was left were the noodles.  While waiting for the water to boil, we ate our salads, and I awkwardly tried to be a charming and flirtatious hostess.  I had taken the seat closest to the stove, which meant my date–who sat across from me–was facing it.  All of a sudden, his eyes got huge.  I thought he was either choking or about to lavish praise on the miraculous salad I had bestowed upon him.  Instead, he shouted that the pot on the stove was on fire.

I was relieved that I did not have to perform the Heimlich maneuver, sad that my salad got no props and terrified that I was about to burn the house down.  We both leapt from our chairs, not sure what to do, but fairly certain that “Stop, Drop and Roll” did not apply to this situation.  As quickly as it started, the fire burned itself out, and we cautiously approached the stove to examine the forensic evidence.  My date was baffled by the fact that there was only water in the pot.  I knew that appearances could be deceiving.  You see, I had heard that if you put just  a bit of vegetable oil in the water when cooking pasta, the noodles won’t stick together.  It quickly became apparent that I had filled the pot with too much water, and when it boiled, it overflowed, causing the vegetable oil to ignite on the burner.

If I were to psychoanalyze myself, my lack of desire to cook during the following twenty years of my life could maybe be traced back to this embarrassment, as could the failed marriage to the guy who incessantly mocked me about it for years.  Hmmm…gotta love blogging as therapy.

Back to the present. Now that my self-esteem has mostly recovered from the trauma caused by that formative life experience (except for my lingering fear of fire), I once again enjoy making spaghetti.  I have tried many jarred pasta sauces in the past few years, and have settled on Sockarooni by Newman’s Own.  Not only is it all-natural and tasty, but the name is AWESOME and fun to say (Sockarooni! Sockarooni! Sockarooni!), and all proceeds go to charity.

However, when  tomato season arrives at our house, it seems silly to use tomato sauce from a jar, so last year I boldly did some experimenting and created my own recipe.  And it’s GOOD, if I do say so myself.  🙂  It is a thick and chunky meat sauce that is easily adapted to different tastes.  Leave in more jalapeno seeds if you want a kick or leave them out if you prefer a non-spicy sauce.  Bell peppers and mushrooms can be used or not, depending on your preferences.  I don’t like something that’s in Italian Seasoning, so I just add basil and oregano, but if you’re a fan of Italian Seasoning, go nuts.  Also, I used ketchup, but you could put in tomato paste instead. Use as much of it as you need to make the sauce the consistency you want.  Oh…and I no longer spike the pasta water with oil–go figure. It’s much safer just to toss the cooked noodles with some olive oil to keep them from sticking together.

BTW, if you are looking for something to do with any leftover spaghetti noodles, I highly suggest feeding them one by one to your dog, if you have one.  It is highly entertaining, complete with slurping and teeth gnashing, as you can see in this YouTube video featuring my dogs Dieter, Tigger, and the late Katie.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfWUTW1arGc

JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE

Note:  All measurements are approximate and may be adjusted to taste. Makes approximately 4 servings.

  • 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped onions
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dried basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 jalapenos, minced–leave a few seeds in for some spice
  • 5-7 medium-sized tomatoes
  • ½ cup ketchup (a few squirts)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 1 small can mushroom pieces
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed (this is not necessary, but why not sneak in some healthy Omega 3s)
  • Cornstarch, if needed for thickening

Set a pot of water to boil for peeling tomatoes.  Meanwhile, brown ground sirloin in olive oil with onions and bell peppers.  When meat is almost browned, add garlic, jalapenos and dry seasonings.  Turn off heat when done, to deal with tomatoes.

When water boils, plunge tomatoes in pot for one minute, then remove. When cool enough to handle, core, peel and seed them.  Chop and mix remaining pulp into meat mixture.  Use a turkey baster to drain any excess liquid/grease.

Add ketchup, fresh basil, mushrooms, and flaxseed to meat/tomato mixture. Bring to a boil, and then turn down heat to simmer.   Simmer for 15-20 minutes minimum, longer if possible, until tomatoes and peppers have softened.  If sauce is too watery, cook longer or add a bit of cornstarch to thicken.

Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash with parmesan cheese and a salad and/or garlic bread.  Actually, I found a yummy bruschetta recipe that would make a great appetizer or accompaniment for this dish.  Stay tuned…

Click JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE for a printable PDF of this recipe.

It’s Time for Some Naan-sense

One of my major pet peeves used to be seeing–and especially hearing–people eat on TV.  Those snack commercials with the close-ups of psychotically enthusiastic people crunching a chip grossed me out, and I could not understand why advertisers would feature people extolling the virtues of their product with full-mouth-induced speech impediments:  “Wow, thatsh sho tashty!”

Honestly, I still hate those commercials, but ironically, I love watching the Food Network and other food based reality shows.  For one thing, rarely are chewing or crunching sounds audible when food is sampled. Thank you, sound engineers.  And also, they seem to train their show hosts to speak clearly with a big honkin’ mouth full of a fussily arranged and pleasantly garnished dish.

Bill and I relax and unwind at night while watching The Next Food Network Star, America’s Next Great Restaurant, and Hell’s Kitchen, among others.  One of the appealing things about these shows–besides feeling superior when experienced chefs mess up a rudimentary task, such as cooking pasta–is that sometimes their creations and/or ingredients are intriguing.  This will occasionally inspire us to try new foods and new recipes.

For example, Bill’s mouth was watering like Homer Simpson dreaming of donuts while watching The Next Food Network Star last week.  Contestant Vic Vegas Moea was making lamb burgers, and lamb is one of Bill’s favorites.  So, the next day we hit the grocery store so that he could buy the ingredients and try it out.   While he was in the bakery department, futilely searching for individual hamburger buns (he really didn’t need a package of eight), I wandered around perusing the rest of the baked goods, doing my own Homer Simpson impression.  I snagged a bag of pretzel bagels and skipped over to add them to the cart, just as Bill noticed packages of freshly baked Tandoori Naan.

Naan is a type of bread that we have seen on various cooking shows–usually used by Indian-influenced chefs.  It is a leavened flatbread cooked in a tandoor (a clay oven).   We had never tasted it before, and Bill decided on the spur of the moment that he was going to use it, instead of a bun, for his lamb burger.   We got home, and Bill went to work on Vic’s recipe, while I tried to decide what I was going to have for lunch–I do not eat lamb.

I took a look at what we had around the kitchen, and decided to do a bruschetta type of creation.  I brushed both sides of my piece of naan with olive oil, topped it with sliced golden tomatoes and basil from our garden, and finished it with some fresh grated parmesan cheese.  I put it under the broiler just long enough to melt the cheese.  Holy cow, was it ever spectacular!  The naan was pillow-y soft, with just a bit of chew.  I will be purchasing it often from now on.  I truly think just about anything would taste better on it or with it, but it really was a fantastic complement to my simple toppings.  Just consider it my Italian-Indian fusion experiment.  Sounds classy–like it could be on one of those shows.

Here is the link to the lamb burger, which Bill describes as one the best things he’s ever eaten!  (He didn’t use anything from our garden, but I had to post the recipe since he liked it so much.  The “mayoli” has garlic in it, and we do grow garlic–it just isn’t ready yet.  And it calls for dried basil–guess he could have used fresh, but he stuck to the directions on this one).

LAMB BURGERS WITH CARAMELIZED RED ONIONS, MAYOLI AND FETA

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/lamb-burgers-with-caramelized-red-onions-mayoli-and-feta-recipe/index.html

Cold Cucumber Mint Soup–What a Cool First Course!

This past spring, Bill and I went on our first cruise ever–to the Bahamas.  Besides being on a cruise ship, other things that we experienced for the first time on that vacation included:

  • A 19 hour trip from Detroit to Miami.  No, we did not drive.  We flew.
  • A Miami bar tab totaling $47.86.  For two mojitos.
  • Sleeping in a room the size of a cigar box.  At least it had a balcony!
  • Huddling inside a covered pavilion at a “resort” that had seen its heyday in the 1960s, while a violent tropical storm raged outside and blasted open several sets of French doors.
  • The extremely fun water park at the gorgeously impressive Atlantis Resort
  • Drambuie liqueur–particularly liked by Bill
  • Salsa dance lessons–not so much liked by Bill
  • Towels folded into animal shapes
  • Chilled soups served as appetizers

Each evening in the ship’s main dining rooms, a different chilled soup was featured.  How summer-y and refreshing!  I tried one every day and was hooked.  Although I cannot remember the exact names, I know that at least one of them was cucumber based.  So, when I plucked the cucumber equivalent of a monster zucchini from our garden, I decided to look online and see if I could find a tasty sounding recipe for a chilled cucumber soup.

The recipe that I chose also contains fresh mint leaves–which we grow–and dry mustard.  Based on some of the reviews, I substituted Dijon mustard for the dry stuff because it’s what I had on hand.  I love that it uses Greek yogurt, so it has a decent amount of protein.  It also called for five cucumbers, but since mine was the size of a 3-year-old child’s arm, I just used the one.   The soup was very pretty and delicious, but Bill and I found that the chopped mint leaf added in at the end created an unappealing texture.  So, I put the leftovers back in the blender and pureed it all together–much better!  I did not add the additional finely diced cucumber either, since I wanted a smooth soup.  (I forgot to snap a picture of it until it was almost gone, which is why the bowl looks barely filled in the photo.)

Here’s the link to the recipe:

COLD CUCUMBER MINT SOUP

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Cold-Cucumber-Mint-Soup-12490

Slug-Free Bleu Cheese Coleslaw

It was a balmy and calm December night. Hundreds of slugs covered the front porch, their slimy trails glistening in the moonlight.  We, the owners of the slug-infested porch, stood gaping in awe.  We knew that our garden beds played host to slugs in the summer, evidenced by chewed-up hostas and cabbage, and the shiny tell-tale tracks left on walkways.  Sometimes a particularly large slug would make an appearance by our back door or on the base of the porch. (Recon missions?)  But we had no idea that we had so many, or that they were capable of seemingly organized mass gatherings such as this.

Were the slugs only there to enjoy the unusually warm evening, coming out of hiding to bask in the above average temperatures one last time before winter settled in?  Or were their intentions more sinister?  I have read Animal Farm several times, and I couldn’t help but think that there was some kind of anarchy or overthrow being planned.

Now that I am aware of their organizational capabilities, I prefer to live with the slugs rather than make enemies of them.  I do not want them coming after me.  So, I no longer put down beer traps and have chosen not to use the highly recommended Sluggo to “control” them.  I announce when I am going to harvest cabbage so that they have a fair warning to retreat, and I am not too bothered by the holes that they create in some of our plants.

Bill and I even decided to honor them when we competed in the Great Urban Race in Toronto last summer.  This is a competition held in various cities in which teams of two race around the city on foot or using public transportation, figuring out clues, taking pictures and performing tasks along the way.  Knowing that our intellect far surpassed our speed, we named our team Super Slugs.  As expected, we finished the race toward the back of the pack, but I do believe that our garden slugs were impressed; they have not felt the need to intimidate us by holding any uprisings lately.

Still, although I do not actively wipe out the slugs, I do draw the line at ingesting them.  Therefore, all cabbage picked from our garden is carefully inspected; the chewed outer leaves are removed, and the cut-up cabbage is placed in salt water to soak out any remaining invaders.  Doing so has not seemed to invoke any retaliation on their part.  This year, our cabbage seems to be surprisingly slug-free.  Although they feasted on the exterior, there were far fewer baby slugs hiding inside than there usually are.  I only had to pluck off two babies on the first head that I picked last Tuesday.

Using my handy Salad Shooter, I shredded the soaked and slug-less cabbage to make one of our favorite summer salads:  Bleu Cheese Coleslaw.  If you are looking for coleslaw “with a twist,” give this recipe a try.  The bleu cheese gives it a bit of flair. We like it with (or on) steaks or burgers.  If you don’t grow cabbage, or are making it off-season, just use a bag of slaw mix as called for in the recipe.  But whatever you do, don’t anger the slugs.

BLEU CHEESE COLESLAW: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/bleu-cheese-coleslaw/detail.aspx

An Unforgettable Dish: Cheese Ravioli with Fresh Tomatoes and Artichoke Sauce

Cheese Ravioli with Fresh Tomato and Artichoke Sauce

There are some things that are best forgotten:  embarrassing moments, old grudges, unfortunate hairstyles, and anything done after five or more cocktails.  On the other hand, it is best not to forget things like birthdays, anniversaries, making the mortgage payment and bathing.  I have been particularly forgetful lately, and it is driving me bananas.  Although my hygiene has been properly maintained and home foreclosure is not imminent, in the past couple of days I have neglected to: remember to buy necessary items at the grocery store, write a blog post, make a doctor’s appointment, and pick the rest of the corn from the garden.

Not picking the corn was a serious oversight–critters made a feast out of five of our beautiful ears!  Only two were left intact, which I immediately pulled off and took inside.  I am very sad and am mourning the tragic loss of our tasty little crop.  I am also kicking myself, because when I picked two ears for dinner a couple of nights ago, I gleefully noticed that the ears were perfect, and I made a mental note to go out and get the rest of them before the neighborhood wildlife discovered them.  Which I promptly forgot to do.

My memory has been so flighty the past few months that even my attempts to help myself are inadequate.  I’ll make a list to take to the grocery store and either forget to include important items, or forget the entire list on the kitchen table.  I’ll diligently enter an appointment in my cell phone and set an alarm to notify me of it an hour in advance.  But then I’ll forget to charge my cell phone or to keep it nearby, so I never hear the alarm.  I’ll write things on sticky notes and forget where I stuck them.  *Sigh.*

Bill and I are especially bad about remembering to take out meat to thaw for dinner.  This is why, during the school year when we are both working, we end up getting a lot of fast food.  We do manage to plan for those kinds of days once in a while, though.  We try to keep some items on hand that do not require thawing or loads of preparation, such as frozen or refrigerated cheese-filled pasta.  We boil it up, toss it with a bit of pesto and serve with some garlic bread and/or a salad for a filling meatless meal.

The following recipe is great if you are going meatless or just forgot to buy or thaw meat.  In the winter, we use canned diced tomatoes for a super quick dinner.  But in the summer, when the garden tomatoes are fresh and abundant, we chop up a bunch of those instead.   The recipe calls for roma tomatoes, but we use whatever the garden is producing.

CHEESE RAVIOLI WITH FRESH TOMATO AND ARTICHOKE SAUCE:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/cheese-ravioli-with-fresh-tomato-and-artichoke-sauce/detail.aspx

Tomato-Topped Chicken, Zucchini and Ricotta Sandwiches

As we walk toward the garden, Dieter–our 15-year-old German Shorthair Pointer–waits by the picket fence, drool streaming from his jowls, quivering in anticipation, eyes intensely watching our every move. His favorite time of the year has arrived: tomato season. We pitch a few cherry tomatoes over the fence to him, and he scrambles to retrieve them, even ducking his creaky old body under the picnic table if one rolls underneath. He will also bob for them in his doggie pool or water dish, blowing water out of his nostrils and submerging his entire head if necessary.  He is obsessed with cherry tomatoes, and loves eating them more than anything in the world. Except for maybe bread. Or couches.

I am less enthusiastic about them, although I have aspired to like tomatoes for years. They always look so appealing, all red and juicy. But I never cared for them unless they were cooked–like in ketchup, spaghetti sauce or salsa. All my life, I have been a Tomato-Picker-Off-er. But each year, I would give them another try in hopes that my tastes would change.

Having a garden was my turning point. Since we have been planting and picking our own and experimenting with them in various recipes, I have progressed to being a Transitional Tomato Eater. I now enjoy them in uncooked salsa and on sandwiches and they no longer offend me in salads, but am not yet to the point where I can just eat a hunk of tomato. Or cherry tomatoes–Bill, Dieter and my sister can have those. My other dog, Tigger, and I have not yet developed a taste for cherry tomatoes. She will play with one for a while, nudging it with her nose, but when she finally bites into it, she winces and makes her patented “vegetable face” and spits it out. I do the same thing, minus the nose-nudging.

But, I am proud to say that I just happily downed a delicious BLT that Bill made us for lunch. I used to eat only BLCs (Bacon, Lettuce, and Cheese). Or, since lettuce doesn’t do much for me, sometimes I’d eat just a BC. Bacon and cheese are two of my Dietary Staples. For me to allow a tomato into that mix is truly a big step.  Perhaps an alien (or Dieter) has taken over my body!

Below is a recipe for another sandwich that is enhanced by juicy garden-fresh tomatoes. It has a tangy, melty sauce made from shredded zucchini, lemon zest, ricotta and parmesan cheese that really makes this sandwich unique. After we bought some herbed ciabatta bread at Nino Salvaggio’s, Bill rustled these up for dinner a couple of day ago using chicken tenderloins, but it could also be made with lunch meat, leftover chunks of rotisserie chicken or whatever else you have on hand. In fact, the “sauce” might also go well with ham, turkey, fish or crab cakes–or even as a baked dip with crackers.

TOMATO-TOPPED CHICKEN, ZUCCHINI AND RICOTTA SANDWICHES: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Roasted-Chicken-Zucchini-and-Ricotta-Sandwiches-on-Focaccia-102870