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Warm Up with Broccoli Cheese Soup

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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.

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.

Festivals and Zesty Pierogi Galore

Pierogi with Warm and Zesty Slaw

You’ve gotta love it when there are multiple local opportunities to patronize beer tents, sample great food, listen to music, and experience the horror of what some people actually choose to wear out in public.  Yes, the Labor Day weekend festivals have arrived here in Michigan!  The people-watching will undoubtedly be most entertaining early in the weekend, with the steamy temperatures causing sweaty masses of inappropriately clothed folks to take to the streets in search of entertainment.

In our area, we have several events within a reasonable driving distance from our house to choose from, including:

  • Arts, Beats and Eats
  • The Michigan Renaissance Festival
  • The Michigan Peach Festival
  • The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival

Sadly, the Michigan State Fair–a tradition since 1849–no longer exists, having fallen victim to state budget cuts.  So, we will not be able experience the miracle of a piglet being born (or the joy of gazing upon the Butter Cow) and must choose an alternate venue in which to battle aggressive bees and guzzle warm beer/overpriced freshly squeezed lemonade.  This year, Bill and I are going to hang out at  Arts, Beats and Eats.  With over 70 food vendors to choose from, I hope that I am not paralyzed by indecision as to what to eat.  At the other events, the choice is simple:

  • The former State Fair:  Funnel cakes, elephant ears, Pepto Bismol
  • The Michigan Renaissance Festival:  A gigantic turkey/pterodactyl leg
  • The Michigan Peach Festival:  Duh, peach things
  • The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival:  Pierogi

I am partial toward pierogi booths at festivals, if I can find one.  To me, a nice little cardboard boat filled with beer-absorbing potato and cheese filled dumplings is a perfect street snack.  I had some yummy ones at the American Polish Festival in Sterling Heights earlier this summer, accompanied by a unique taste treat, “Polish Nachos.”  However, with so many other choices available at Arts, Beats, and Eats, I will try my best to spend my food tickets on something new and exciting this evening and maybe find an alternate favorite that will not cause too much GI upset.

In honor of my beloved festival pierogi, I shall now struggle into some too-small cutoffs, don a nasty tube top and a cougar cowboy hat, and share with you a magnificent recipe that we make when we harvest a head of cabbage from our garden and the tomatoes are bountiful.  It is called simply, “Pierogies and Cabbage,” but that does not do proper justice to the tangy and slighty sweet deliciousness of the warm slaw that is created here.  I would like to re-dub it “Pierogi with Warm and Zesty Slaw.” Bill made this a couple of weeks ago, and went all out to maximize the taste of both the pierogi and the slaw–he browned the pierogi in real butter, and cooked the cabbage mixture in bacon fat (as called for in the recipe).  By all means, feel free to substitute olive oil if your arteries are clogging just reading that.  We do not cook with full fat too often anymore, but made an exception here–and it was spectacular!  If you are going to be in Hamtramck this weekend, bring home some fresh pierogi and give this dish a try.

NOTES:

  • We increased the amount of white wine vinegar from 2 teaspoons to 3 to give it a bit more zip.
  • Pierogi is actually the plural of the Polish word pierog (I am missing an accent mark over the o, but do not know how to make one in this program). Saying “pierogies” is mis-pluralizing.  Like saying “feets” or “breasteses.”  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=breasteses
  • What is a cougar cowboy hat?  My definition is: a narrow, woven cowboy hat, curled up on the sides, occasionally seen on cute 19 year olds, but most often sported by cougars with hair extensions and George Hamilton tans who are sipping yard long margaritas with collagen induced trout lips.  Natural habitats include fairs, festivals, concerts and Muscamoot Bay.
  • Never fear: I do not actually own a nasty tube top or cougar cowboy hat, retired my butt-cheek length cut-offs in the same decade as my cheerleading uniform, and do plan to check my outfit from all angles in a mirror before heading out this evening.

PIEROGI WITH WARM AND ZESTY SLAW: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/pierogies-and-cabbage/detail.aspx

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.

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

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