Monday, August 31, 2009

Grilling Eggplant

Eggplant can be delicous when made on the grill.

Slice the eggplant 1/8 - 1/4" thick. Brush with olive oil. Place on a medium hot grill. Flip after about 4 minutes. Grill other side for about three minutes.

The slices should have grill marks and be soft.

This recipe is so simple that there just isn't much to write about it.

We've used grilled eggplant as a side dish, or as the "meat" in sandwiches, with slices of fresh tomato, basil and a pesto mayonnaise.

Here is a healthy meal we enjoyed with tasty grilled eggplant as the main course. Pasta with pesto and a fresh green salad with Italian dressing make wonderful accompaniments:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Purple Things at the Farmer's Market

I love colorful food. When a dish contains a variety of colors it is more fun to eat and seems to taste better. And why not? Don't we eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouth. I really like to include some purple into a dish. Here are some exciting purple things at the farmer's market this Saturday.

No purple carrots this week at the farmer's market (see this post) but these some of are the things we found in purple varieties last weekend.







Dragon Beans:




My husband and I love cooking with these colorful vegetables.

I didn't want this to be a monochromatic post (you should eat a rainbow of colors) so I decided to add some orange cauliflower:

Cheesy Zucchini Saute

This recipe is the best way to use up a lot of zucchini quickly. It makes a good meal on it's own or could be a delicious side dish.

1 small red onion
3 tablespoons of butter
3 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
2 eggs (if serving as main course, if it is a side then leave out this ingredient)
black pepper to taste
8 basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
2 diced fresh tomato

1. Dry shredded zucchini by dabbing with a paper towel. I didn't do this and the cooking was complicated by too much moisture. It didn't get as crispy as I would have liked.

2. In a large skillet, saute onion in butter until crisp and tender.

3. Stir in zucchini, salt, black pepper and garlic. Cook and stir for 5-7 minutes until zucchini is crisp and tender.

4. Crack 2 eggs over the dish. Allow to cook slightly. Stir into zucchini mixture and allow to cook for 2 minutes. You may want to leave this ingredient out if this will be served as a side dish rather then a main course.

5. Top with tomato, basil and cheese.

6. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes until all the cheese in melted.

Dinner is served:

You can really play around with this recipe. I really liked it, but have a few variations in mind that might be good. For example, topping it off with some bread crumbs during step 5 might give it a nice texture and would taste delicious on the warm tomatoes. It would also be really good if sour cream, black olives and salsa were added before it was done cooking for a tex-mex flavor.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Couscous Salad

Couscous is a miracle grain. It cooks in 5 minutes, taste good as left overs and is exceedingly versatile*. Even on a hot day, the required preparation (boil 1 cup of water with butter, take off heat, pour in couscous and have sit covered for 5 minutes) is unlikely to raise the temperature of your house.

The ingredients to this dish are also totally negotiable. All quantities should be adapted to adapted to taste. This quantity serves 2-4 people.

Suggested Ingredients:
1 cup of whole wheat couscous
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
2 cup(s) fresh baby spinach leaves (may want to rip up slightly)
1/4-1/2 cup basil leaves ripped
1 can chickpeas (drained)
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1-2 pinches of red pepper flakes
1 dash of salt

1. Make Couscous: In a large sauce pan combine 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Pour 1 cup of dry couscous into the sauce pan. stir well. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork your done. You will be shocked at how easy this was if you have never made couscous from a box before.

2. Pour warm couscous over raw spinach and basil leaves. Stir. The warm couscous will slightly wilt the leaves for you.

3. Add in tomatoes, olive oil and chickpeas. Then season to taste with other ingredients.

This dish is a new favorite on our table and disappears fast. My dear husband likes that it includes chickpeas for protein and a variety of different vegetables. We typically serve it with a cucumber/purple pepper/tomato salad (tossed with a little pepper and balsamic vinegar) as we have been trying to fill 75% of our plate with vegetables. They go well together.

Dinner: A serving of steak, couscous salad and cucumber salad.

* My research (Wikipedia) has shown that couscous is able to cook so quickly because it is sold in a processed "minute rice" form. However, I contend that unlike minute rice, it taste very good as an instant. This could clearly be a result of my lack of experience with the long cook couscous.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fajita Scrambler

When we host party in the summer, we usually serve fajitas. We love the fresh grilled taste of fajitas. With lots of choices this build your own type meal leave all our guests happy, whether vegetarian or carnivore. It is also an easy meal to build. You simply grill peppers, onions, steak/chicken. Serve with tortillas, black beans, cilantro, Spanish rice, salsa and lots of guacamole and you have a feast. However, we tend to make too much and have to try out different things to use up the left overs. This is one thing recipe I threw together breakfast the day after hosting a group of friends for lunch. It is a left over thing so feel free to throw in whatever you have.

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 tortillas
3 eggs
1 small splash of milk
1/4 cup fat free cottage cheese
1/8 cup mozzarella
grilled peppers, onions and steak (as much or as little as you want/have)
3 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup black beans (drained...minimal extra liquid)

1. Beat eggs in small bowl and add small splash of eggs.

2. Pour egg mixture in a hot skillet. Stir as you usually would when making moist scrambled eggs (we are not going for light and fluffy here).

3. As the mixture cooks add the left over fajita ingredients, cottage cheese, mozzarella, black pepper and black beans.

4. When the scrambled eggs are cooked to your liking (should be moist, but no longer liquid, scoop onto the tortillas (warm tortillas slightly in microwave first) and breakfast is served!

You may want to serve with any leftover salsa, guacamole, or grilled tomatoes.

This was a big hit with my husband (though anything that can be labeled a 'breakfast burrito' tends to appeal to him). The cottage cheese gives it a different texture then your typical scrambled eggs, but give it a try. It gives a creamy and cheesy flavor without all the fat of other cheeses and the added protein really helps this breakfast stick with you on a busy day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tomatoes have arrived!

It has been a cool summer, which has been great for us (no AC) but has lead to sparse yields from our 15 tomato plants.

We've been able to harvest some cherry and grapes daily for the past month.

We even got a occasional larger tomato. So exciting that we had to take pictures of them.

But mostly, we had a whole lot of these:

Well, we had a warm weekend and now we've got tomatoes. We've got heirloom and yellow and beefsteak, oh my! We've got a wide variety (can you see the purple ones...fancy shmancy):

You may ask, "now that you've got all these tomatoes, what are you going to do now?" We've got all sorts of plans for salads, caprese, fresh salsa, stuffed tomatoes and bruschetta. When you've got tomatoes, the possibilities are endless and delicious.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

My quest to use zucchini has continued. I have used it in pasta sauces, omelets, pizzas and any other place I could think of to shove some zucchini it into. Meanwhile, my dear husband has taken great pride in "inflicting" zucchini on his co-workers, family and friends.

Today, we ran out of zucchini. No, you did not misread that last sentence. I actually had two zucchini filled recipes planned for today, but did not have enough zucchini. In a urgent search through the garden I did find some other squashes (no idea what specifically they are), but was only able to find one additional green zucchini. Needless to say, you only get one zucchini recipe today. Good thing it is delicious.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

  • 1 cup butter, soft
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (may substitute oil of your choice)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (check-out person at Trader Joe's suggested using brown sugar because his family's recipe uses brown sugar.
  • 1/2 cup sugar (mostly because I finished off my bag of brown sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (should have been vanilla, but I didn't have any and I have overheard co-workers saying they always use almond extract in place of vanilla)
  • 2-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or whatever all purpose four you have lying around)
  • 2 tablespoons of high quality baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds (or nuts of choice), optional
  • 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1. Pre-heat oven to 350

2. Shred zucchini.

3. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter oil and sugar.

4. Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla; mix well.

5. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Gradually add to other mixture.

6. Stir in zucchini.

7. Spread into a greased 13-9 inch baking pan.

8. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. I only sprinkles nuts over 2/3 of the pan because not everyone love nuts.

9. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove carefully because the chocolate chips are hot. I got some melted chocolate chip on one of my hot pads and then touched it by mistake. Ouch! On the same note, make sure to let it cool before eating.

Hope you enjoy this recipe! It was relatively easy to make, even with the constant interruption of tornado sirens. Brutus (my bulldog) and I spent sometime in the basement between steps of this recipe. It turned out moist and delicious with a light chocolate flavor that will keep you coming back for more. It is fabulous served warm with a cool glass of milk.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Best Pizza Ever! (AKA pesto-licous, zucchinily goodness pizza)

This pizza is not only pesto-licous, but it uses up zucchini from the garden (and shouldn't that be the ultimate goal of any summer pizza?).

Start out with the pizza dough recipe in the previous posting. Make sure to do the quick pre-bake it calls for.

Smear pesto (I promise I will get John to post the recipe...please do not get it from a jar) over the crust of the pizza. Cover pizza with chopped zucchini, sliced mushrooms, and peppers. Top the pizza with fresh basil leaves from the garden. Sprinkle mozzarella over the top with moderation (trust me, when the pizza is this good it doesn't need to be drowned in cheese).

Place on warm pizza stone in oven and bake for 7-10 minutes. Oven should still be pre-heated to 450 degrees from the pre-bake.

Remove from the oven, slice and enjoy! This will redefine your concept of pizza.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pizza - The Crust

We've made a number of pizzas using vegetables and herbs from our garden. Pizza is something that John has worked hard to develop a solid recipe for, and his techniques. The foundation of a good pizza is the crust. From there, the variations are infinite.

Pizza Crust

1 cup warm water (approx 100 F)
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (1 packet)
2 Tbsp honey
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil

Special Equipment
Large cutting board or clean counter top
Rolling Pin (optional)
Pizza Stone

Place pizza stone in the lower 1/3 of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 F.

Combine yeast, water and honey into a large mixing bowl. Add flour 1 cup at a time, salt and olive oil. Stir ingredients together until the dough forms a ball around the spatula. Use your hands to knead the dough for a minute or two, to make sure that there are no pockets of dry flour. Cover and set in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Uncover the bowl. Dough should have risen and doubled in size. Lightly flour your hands. Punch the dough down, and turn the bowl out onto a lightly floured counter or large board. Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, divide the dough in two.

Form half of the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball with the heel of your hand. Use your hand to push the dough out from the center, to the edges of the circle. Eventually lift the circle and place it on the knuckles of a fist. Using a series of gentle tosses, expand the dough until you've got a 12-16" circle. Alternately, use a rolling pin to flatten the dough, working from the middle to the edges. Be sure to pinch the edges up to form a thicker crust. Dough should be about 1/8" thick.
If the dough starts sticking to the board, sprinkle flour beneath it on the board. If the dough starts to tear, stop working it, and let it rest for at least ten minutes.

Let the dough rest for approximately 10 minutes while you prep other ingredients. Flour your peel and slide the dough onto it. Transfer the dough to the hot pizza stone, close the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes. Slide the peel under the dough and remove it from the oven. You are now ready to put your toppings on the pizza.


Whole wheat dough
- Replace all purpose flour with 1 1/2 cups bread flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour.

Herb dough
- Mix 2 Tbsp dry or finely chopped Italian spices into the dough. Dry basil, oregano, and marjoram work well.

Cheesy dough
- Add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese, and an additional 2 Tbsp olive oil to the recipe.

Alternate ingredients - 2 Tbsp of white sugar or light corn syrup can be used in place of honey.

Ant Wars!

For at least three days the bloody battles ragged on the front steps of my house. I'm embarrassed to say that at first I did not notice the carnage and atrocities taking place on my own property. One day, after walking the dog, I noticed a step on my walkway was completely covered with ants. I assumed that they had found a juicy bit of something there. We usually use our back door, so for several days I was blind to the true nature of the events that were occurring.

Later that week, I went out to water the plants at the front of the house. I noticed that the ants, though less of them this time, were still at it. Now, instead of completely covering the step, they took up about a third of the area. Back to watering...In the garden I noticed several ant hills were surrounded with little black things. When I leaned into investigate I discovered the truth of what was happening in my own front yard. Every ant hill in my garden was surrounded by dead bodies of fallen ants.

At first, I was startled. Had there been some sort of mass poisoning? Could whatever killed all these thousands of ants threaten the health and welfare of our dear puppy Brutus? Then I went back to the huge congregations of ants on my step. What were they up too? It was then that I noticed that the ants were not just congregating. They were, in fact, three deep. Crawling on each other, pushing each other, attacking each other. It seemed that a major objective was to throw each other off the side of our step. There was a full on ant war going on on my front steps!

I had seen ant wars once before in my life, back when I was in the Minnesota Conservation Corps. Big ants were fighting small ants. Big ants would climb up a pillar and dive off of it into the middle of small ants. One big ant was stronger then the small ants for sure, but three small ants could rip apart a big one. It was horrifying and intriguing at the same time. Also, slightly comforting that our species was not along on our planet in trying to destroy itself through war.

This battle was between the same kind of ants. Both small. How did they tell who was on which side? What was the battle over? Were they in fact battling over the territory that I considered my property? Were they battling over control of my front garden? Who won? Our the ants in my garden the ones that have always been there or invaders who took over their territory.

You could watch the ants thrown off the step (that survived the fall) march right back into battle. Were they afraid? Did some flee? Did they feel a sense of duty and courage?

The battle site. One step on the walkway going up to our house.

Dead bodies of fallen soilders surrounding ant holes:

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Orange Almond Zucchini Bundt Cake

Be prepared for the yummiest way to use the excess zucchini in your garden. This cake is moist and has an excellent flavor.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
Orange Icing

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix flour, baking powder, soda, salt cinnamon and cloves.
Shred zucchini with a food processor. I chose yellow zucchini because yellow seemed more cake like to me.

In second bowl, beat eggs, whisk in oil, sugar, juice, extract and zucchini. Mix well.

Add to flour mixture, stirring just to moisten. Pour into greased bundt pan.

Bake 55-60 minutes: cool on rack 10 minutes. I was very excited to use the new silicon bundt I received as a wedding gift. The original recipe said to invert. When I tried to invert, the cake promptly slid right out of the pan. I do not recommend inverting for this recipe.

Orange Icing:
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Sliced almonds (I bought slivered almonds and regretted not get pretty sliced ones)

In small bowl beat together butter, confectioners' sugar, orange juice and lemon juice until well blended.

Spoon the glaze over the top of the cake and allow it to drip down the sides.

If you want to wrap the finished cake with sliced almonds.

You may want to use another type of pan. Here are the baking times I found:
one 13 x 9 x2-inch baking pan - bake 35-40 minutes.
two 9-inch square pans - bake about 35 minutes
two 8 x 4 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pans - bake about 45 minutes
24 cupcakes - bake 20-25 minutes