Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Frozen banana treats

Frozen bananas are the perfect antidote for hot summer days when you've been outside working too hard or playing too hard. They are also perfect for balmy summer evenings when you welcome neighbors to sit a spell on the front porch and chat. Or after you've tucked the kids into bed for a night and feel your sweet tooth calling. Actually, they are perfect just about any time. With just a little bit of planning, frozen bananas are a quick, healthy snack that appeals to just about everyone. And, if you can stand a little bit of a mess, making these treats can be a fun activity for the kids.

You will need:

2-3 bananas
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
popsicle sticks
desired toppings (grated coconut, ground peanuts, sprinkles, chopped fruit, granola, etc.)

Melt the chocolate chips with the vegetable oil in the microwave and stir well. Allow to cool a bit so that it is easier to work with. Then, peel the bananas into the desired size and insert a popsicle stick into each part. I sometimes use tooth picks and they work equally well but the bananas have to be cut a bit smaller.  Now, roll each piece in the chocolate then quickly sprinkle with whatever toppings you have chosen. Place on a cookie sheet covered with tin foil or parchment paper and freeze.

These can be served when the chocolate sets or stored in a covered container in the freezer for up to a week. Mine don't normally make it that long!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stuffed pattypan squash

Down the road from us is a farm with a store that's larger than a farmer's market but smaller than a grocery store. I love shopping there (and usually do so once a week, on average) because they have incredibly fresh fruits and vegetables along with a great selection of gluten-free and organic foods, a homemade baked goods section, and a deli. It's a great place to pick up a gallon of milk or a last-minute something without making the trip to the supermarket.

So the other day they had a basket of patty pan squash, with a sign saying, "OUR OWN!" I couldn't resist them - they're so cute - but especially because you can't get any more local than five minutes away.

Truth be told, I purchased some of these last year, but they went to waste before I could find a recipe to use them in.  That wasn't going to happen this year, so I searched for (and found, on this recipe for stuffed pattypan squash.

Since I only had 4 pattypans, I scaled this down a little bit.  You may want and need to do the same, depending on the size of your squash.

6 pattypan squash, stem and blossom removed
6 slices bacon
1/2 cup diced onion
1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Bring one inch of water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add squash, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, or until a fork can pierce the stem with little resistance. Drain, and slice off the top stem of the squash. Use a melon baller to carefully scoop out the centers of the squash. (I used a regular teaspoon.  Worked fine.) Reserve all of the bits of squash.

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Remove bacon to paper towels, and set aside. Saute onion in bacon drippings. Chop the reserved squash pieces, and saute them with the onion for one minute. (My note: I used vegetarian bacon.)

Remove the skillet from heat, and stir in the breadcrumbs. Crumble the bacon, and stir into the stuffing along with the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff each squash to overflowing with the mixture, and place them in a baking dish. Cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil.

Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until squash are heated through.

I served this with vegetarian chicken and macaroni and cheese.  Since this was a new dish to try (and I'm happy to report that everyone at the table tried it), I needed something else for us as a backup.  These were pretty tasty!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Black bean salad

This one comes from a good friend—a simple summer side dish that we've been gobbling up for years. When I finally asked for the recipe, I was surprised to find how easy it is to prepare. This black bean salad goes great with just about anything you can throw on the grill, from hamburgers and hot dogs to chicken and steak.

Here's what you need:
2 cans of black beans, rinsed and drained (I used Goya brand)
2 ears of corn
1 small roma tomato, chopped
@ 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
@ 2-4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
salt/pepper to taste
Juice of 2 limes
@ a tablespoon of olive oil (optional)

In a large bowl, mix the corn kernels and the black beans.
Add the tomato and onion.

Give it a good stir.
Add the chopped cilantro (I admit to loving cilantro, so I used more rather than less...). Salt and pepper, to taste.
Toss with lime juice, and a bit of olive oil. A word about the dressing: the lime juice is key. You want to taste that fresh citrus when you take a bite. My friend adds a bit of oil when she makes it, but her mom doesn't. It works both ways.

I doubled this recipe for 10 people, and served it with burgers and a pasta salad. There was enough left over for my husband and I to have with our dinner the next night. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Zucchini and Breadcrumbs

You guys know how it is. Anyone who's ever had a vegetable garden knows how it is.

It is zucchini time.

I am not complaining. Nope. Only two plants grew this year, and still I'm drowning in the stuff. But that's good. It's all good.

Because I have recipes like this one.

Zucchini and Breadcrumbs (adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe called Zucchini with Garlic and Lemon)

For the zucchini:
(I'm going to give you the amounts they give, but really...this is one of those "however much zucchini I have on hand, and adjust the rest to taste" recipes.)
5 medium zucchinis, shredded
kosher salt (or table salt if you prefer)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
ground black pepper

For the breadcrumb topping:
(I also pretty much go by feel on this one, too.)
2 slices of white bread, torn (I often use whole wheat, since that's what we keep in the house; when I'm feeling lazy, I just use processed breadcrumbs. They're not as good, but you already knew that, I bet.)
2 tablespoons butter

To make the zucchini:
1. Shred zucchini on large holes of box grater, or in food processor. Cook's says to avoid shredding seeds and core (which should be discarded), but I'm afraid that's above my fussiness level when cooking.
2. Toss zucchini with a teaspoon or two of salt, and put in a colander to drain for about 10 minutes, if you can. (This is when I either prepare the breadcrumbs or just work on the rest of the meal.)
3. Cook's says to then wrap the zucchini in a kitchen towel (in batches if necessary) to wring out excess moisture. Again, too fussy for me. (They're undoubtedly right, of course, but I just don't have it in me.) I just dab with a paper towel if it's still looking wet, and call it a day.
4. Combine garlic with two of the teaspoons of olive oil in a medium or large bowl; add zucchini; toss to combine, and to break up clumps of zucchini.
5. Heat rest of olive oil in skillet over high heat until faintly smoking. Add zucchini mixture to skillet; spread evenly in pan.
6. Cook without disturbing for a couple of minutes; you want the bottom of the layer of zucchini to brown. Then stir, or flip, or whatever strikes your fancy, and let the new bottom layer brown again.
7. Remove skillet from heat; add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
8. Serve, sprinkling (or, in my case, blanketing) each serving with bread crumbs.

To make the breadcrumb topping (which you should do before or while you're cooking the zucchini):
1. If making your own breadcrumbs, simply pulse your bread in a food processor until...well, until it looks like largish breadcrumbs.
2. Heat butter in skillet over medium-high heat; add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently until golden brown.
3. Put in small bowl and set aside until needed (or put on table so everyone can put as much on as they want!)

And, of course, enjoy! After all, it's zucchini time.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Quick chicken and dumplings

I'm not in my own kitchen. I'm far from home with three children. Today has been...bleh. You'd feel that way, too, had you been away from your Viking for more than two weeks. So, my thoughts turn to things that soothe the bleh, like chicken soups, warm breads, hard liquor. This being a family blog and all, and given that I've already bestowed upon this blog sufficient warm breads recipes, I'm going with the chicken soup.

Having three children on my own, I'm going with easy chicken soup, or easy chicken and dumplings. Seriously, I just made this, and it took very little time and effort. Add that I think my children (well, two of them) will eat it, and it's win-win all around.

Ingredients: Chicken broth (I used one box of organic broth). Small onion, chopped. One or two cloves of garlic, chopped. Pat of butter. Biscuit mix or your favorite drop biscuit recipe--because what are dumplings, after all? They're boiled biscuits. Chicken, chopped or shredded--I just use the breast and thighs off of a market-purchased roasted chicken and save the legs for a later child dinner. Salt. Pepper.

Saute the onion and garlic in a large soup pan in the pat of butter. Add in the broth, bring it to a boil. Mix up the biscuit recipe and drop teaspoons into the boiling broth. It's fine to let little bits fall in, too, because it helps thicken up the broth to make a nice, creamy sauce-like base for the chicken and dumplings. Stir lightly and periodically.

While that boils, chop up your chicken. Then, mix it in to the broth and dumplings. Turn down to simmer, let cook through, salt and pepper to taste. Yes. You are done.

I serve this to my children with peas on the side, although some people I know put the peas in--I guess it's hard to handle that vast space of colorlessness that is chicken and dumplings. My mother-in-law hedonistically serves this over mashed potatoes, while other folks I know serve their boiled biscuits with chicken over...biscuits. We're just gonna eat it as it is.

Bon appetit.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Crustless spinach quiche

I was in the mood for quiche, but as these things go, I didn't have any crust - nor was I in the mood to make any. So, a quick search on led me to this recipe for Crustless Spinach Quiche, which turned out pretty tasty.  It was also incredibly simple to make.

Chances are you have most (if not all) of the ingredients on hand.

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 10 oz. box frozen spinach, thawed and drained
5 eggs, beaten
3 cups muenster cheese (I used mozzarella)
 1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease pan.  Add oil to skillet, then onions. Stir in spinach.

You'll recall that the directions specified that the spinach be thawed and drained.  Mine obviously wasn't, but you'll want to make sure yours is, because otherwise this takes a lot of time in the skillet for it to defrost.

In a bowl, combine eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper.  Add spinach mixture from skillet and stir to blend. Scoop mixture into pan. 

Bake until eggs are set or 30 minutes.  Let cool 10 minutes.

My kids weren't too pleased with this, but that was to be expected.  The Husband and I thought it was delicious and a dish that might make it into the regular rotation.  There were leftovers, which were pretty good heated up the next day for lunch, which I had with some chopped tomatoes.  

Next time I might try this with reduced fat cheese (not sure how that will work) and perhaps some vegetarian bacon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Grilled pork chops with brown sugar marinade

I don't buy pork chops very often. But I've been inspired by marinades this grilling season, and so I recently decided to give this cut of meat another chance. Pork chops are often too dry for my taste (unlike the pork tenderloin, which I love).

I've never marinated pork chops before, but it makes sense. Marinades improve less than stellar cuts of meat, tenderizing and flavoring—all good. And this marinade is so incredibly simple, chances are you already have the ingredients on hand.

Here's what you need:

1 cup of soy sauce
1/2 cup of water
6 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons crushed, dried rosemary (though fresh would be equally good)
6 bone-in center cut pork chops

This makes a lot of marinade, so if you are cooking anywhere from 4-10 chops, you should have more than enough.

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and pour about 3/4 of it over the pork chops. I put mine in a large Ziploc bag because it's the easiest way to get the job done.

Marinate in the refrigerator for at least three hours (longer is even better). Set the remaining marinade aside.

When you are ready, fire up the grill. Shake the excess marinade off the chops and place them over the fire. My chops weren't very thick, maybe 1/2 inch, and cooked quickly, about 5 minutes per side. Use the reserved marinade to baste the pork while it cooks.

The pork was moist, tender and extremely flavorful, and we all agreed this recipe is worth adding in to the regular rotation—my son especially enjoyed it, grabbing bites off his plate faster than I could cut it.

I added the leftover meat to a garden salad with dried cranberries and feta cheese the next night. Two great meals; one delicious marinade! Win-win!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eating from the garden

I've barely had time to slap a hotdog or two on the grill this week let alone plan and cook anything more elaborate. Luckily though, it's June and the beginning of the season of abundance in the garden. For us that means we can eat a wonderful meal without a lot of cooking. After becoming a student of permaculture a few years back, the kids and I have spent a lot of time transforming our small city plot into a dynamic, growing system, and although it is far from perfect, I'm still routinely stunned by how much food our small plot yields each year. Besides the simply wonderful feeling you get from harvesting what you have watched grow just a few steps from your door, gardening can be a fun way to incorporate the small people in your life into the mealtime process. I've also  been amused to see the kids take a break from playing to run over and grab a handful of something from the garden and chomp on it with a gusto that you'd never see if I were to carefully prepare and serve it for dinner.

Tonight, when I would have been cooking dinner, I was instead watching my boys harvest the garden peas. After the fun work of shelling them, the peas were quickly steamed and tossed with some bow-tie pasta, leftover roasted chicken from a neighbor's farm, the last of the pesto frozen from last year's garden, a few leaves of fresh basil harvested from the herb garden, and some crumbled locally made feta cheese. I also served fresh applemint tea from the garden, a tossed green salad made from heirloom Amish Deer Tongue lettuce, and a crusty loaf of bread. Altogether it was both simple and delicious. I forgot to take pictures of the meal itself but here are a few from the preparation:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Glenn's Chicken Fricassee

You might have noticed that the vast majority of the recipes I post have someone's name in the title.

If I know you in "real life" and you cook--ever--I've probably forced you to give me the recipe for whatever it is you make that's my favorite. Or I've incorporated one of your tricks into one of my standards. (I got my beer-in-the-chili thing from you, Susanna. And one day I'll be brave enough to add Carol's pinch of cinnamon in my matzo balls, just to see what it does to them.)

But, hey, at least I give you credit for it, right?

Glenn is one of my oldest California friends; he, his partner, Baroy, and I all lived together for a couple of years in a West Hollywood apartment. It was Glenn who fed me ice chips while I labored with Em, and Baroy kept getting distracted by all the equipment and the crises that kept popping up. (It turned out fine in the end, of course.)

He's seriously good people. And he cooks. Well.

The meat-and-veggie-laden pasta sauce that is really the one recipe that Baroy makes regularly was originally Glenn's. (Don't worry. You'll get it here eventually.)

But the one that I glommed onto early on in our friendship was what Glenn called Chicken Fricassee, and so I do, too. But, really, it's not what most people would call fricassee. A real fricassee is supposed to use a whole chicken and be cut in a certain way, if I'm not mistaken. I believe there's often cream. And I don't know of too many other fricassee recipes that have meatballs in them.

This one has meatballs in it. They may be the best part.

The other best part? Is that it's one of those "throw in some of this" and "put as much as you want of that" recipes.

I like these kinds of recipes. They make me feel creative.

Glenn's Chicken Fricassee

Butter or margarine or (I don't think this would be as good, but to each his own) oil
Carrots and/or celery and/or whatever you have in the house that you'd like to add
Chicken pieces
Meatballs (either homemade or frozen premade)
Rice (see below for how to figure out amounts)
Water or chicken broth (see below for how to figure out amounts)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a dutch oven or other large pot, sautee onions and veggies in butter until onions are translucent.

2. Add chicken pieces, skin side down (if they have skin), and brown; flip and brown on other side. Salt and pepper the chicken if you'd like; if not, add salt and pepper later, or at the table. Whatevs!

3. Add enough water to cover chicken; keep track of how many cups you use. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover pot; cook chicken for about half an hour.

4. Add meatballs. If needed, add more water (and remember to keep track of this water as well) and bring again to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. If the meatballs are homemade and raw, cook for at least another half an hour; if frozen and precooked, you can probably get away with just fifteen minutes.

5. Add rice--the amount depends on how much water's in the pot. Put in one cup of rice for every two cups of water you added. Add salt if you haven't already. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. (Yeesh. I sound like a broken record here.) Cover pot; cook until most or all of the liquid is absorbed, and rice is fluffy and tender. Serve.

And that's it. It takes a while to cook, but it's such a simple recipe. And oooohhhhh, it's good. Ultimate comfort food.

(More photos to come when I figure out why I can't find them!)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Banana/oatmeal muffins

I'm traveling and not cooking a whole lot, so the below is something I scraped from a blog of mine that I put on hiatus, in part because I'm over here posting recipes anyway. These are muffins my children love. You can bake this batter in whatever pan you like--loaf, small loaf, muffin, square...just test the center with a knife or straw to make sure it's cooked through.

P.S. I'm aware that the above is NOT a muffin. The above is a tiny little loaf pan that turns out a beautiful miniature loaf of quickbread.
I've devised a banana muffin recipe (based in part on the Joy of Cooking) that (a) my kids will eat but that (b) has relatively low sugar and relatively high fiber. Give it a try. They're good buttered, hot or cold, and they last a couple of days. We use these for breakfast and for snacks...either way, they're cheap! My kids really love these, to the point that I double this up every time I make it, which is about once a week or so. Caveat: my kids are a little bit...odd.

You will need...
Old brown bananas
Applesauce, unsweetened
White sugar
Brown sugar
Wheat germ
Canola oil
Cinnamon and nutmeg
Baking soda
Baking powder
Two mixing bowls, a good whisk, a big spoon/spatula
Muffin pan/cups

1. Get two bowls, a big one and a small one. Set your oven to 350 F.

2. In the small bowl, whisk together one cup of flour (I use white whole wheat--if you use whole wheat, cut it with half white or they'll be too heavy), a half cup of dry oats (I just use Quaker oats), and a half cup of wheat germ (obviously, this isn't for the gluten-free crowd). Add in about a quarter teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon each of baking powder and baking soda, and then shake cinnamon powder over it until it's all covered in cinnamon powder (or, to taste...sorry, I don't measure my spices). Shake in some powdered nutmeg (I give it about three good shakes), and mix really really well with the whisk.

3. In the large bowl, put in two or three peeled, super ripe bananas and smush them up. Add four ounces of applesauce, a quarter cup of white sugar, a quarter cup of brown sugar, one teaspoon of vanilla, and six tablespoons of canola oil (or some other reasonable oil, but don't use one with a strong flavor, like, say, olive oil). Add one egg. Whisk it all together until you get as many lumps out of the banana as you can.

4. Dump the dry stuff into the large bowl. Mix until all is moist. Muffin recipes always say to mix until everything is "just" moist, but I just mix the hell out of it.

5. Fill muffin liners (I use muffin liners to avoid greasing a pan, but if you don't like them, grease the muffin pan) about 3/4 full. Put in oven for 18 minutes or until inserted utensil or straw or toothpick or whatever comes out clean. I also turn the muffins halfway through.

Cool, butter, serve.

This will get you about 9 or 10 muffins, good for a number of breakfasts or snacks at about 50 cents each. You can also make this into banana bread. Put the batter into a greased loaf pan, bake for about 40 minutes (or until whatever you use to test these things comes out clean). I always turn it halfway through.

If you think these are OK, I've got a pumpkin muffin recipe that'll knock your socks off.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Simple summer sandwich

I've taken leave of my kitchen temporarily, thanks to the air-conditioning unit in our house being uncooperative for the last few days, just as the outside temperatures are soaring into the 80s and 90s. (Isn't that always the way?)  Apparently, there's a big ol' chunk of ice in the air conditioner that is causing us to feel like we've become Mr. and Mrs. Heat Miser from "A Year Without a Santa Claus." (Yeah, I know ... you're welcome for putting that song in your head.)

So as of last night, I'm not cooking anything that requires much of anything. I've put the family on notice not to expect too much this week as the chef is busy fanning herself on the sofa  juggling repairmen schedules with work projects, ramped-up therapy schedules, and orthodontist appointments.  Truly, the only food I'm thinking about are cool ones.

Like my favorite summertime sandwich, which I had for lunch today. It's such a simple sandwich, but oh so good. 

(The lopsidedness of this sandwich is apropos for how I feel right now.)

All there is to it is some thick whole wheat bread, hummus, cucumbers and tomatoes. I might add a pinch of kosher salt.  This would also work well in a wrap, of course.

It's the simplest thing. And when life gets a little too chaotic, and you're too hot that you can't be bothered, sometimes that's just what you need.