Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Waste not, want not. Love, Mama.

I can still hear my mother’s words just like it was yesterday, chiding me not to waste food. Food was just not to be wasted. You see, my mother came through the depression and times were hard. You made do and did without. None of this throwing away stuff just because you didn’t like it. If you think these people promoting “being green” are fanatics, you should have seen Mom in action.

In honor of dear ol’ Mom, last night I made some food with stuff that had just been around my house for way too long. I kept it simple and only purchased one thing to complete one dish – chicken breast.

For the first dish, I made an apricot sauce. I had apricots that were not going to be around too much longer. I chopped them up, added sugar, and cooked them down to make a sauce. I can’t claim that I did much for measuring, but for the sake of anyone who wants to try this, I used about two cups of chopped apricots and one-half cup of sugar. I then cooked them down to the consistency that I wanted.

This morning I had some with my yogurt. It was pretty tasty; even if I have to say so myself. Maybe this weekend, I can try it with pancakes.

To continue in this same vein, I found a recipe for chicken salad with olive vinaigrette – I had all of the ingredients except the chicken.

Chicken Salad with Olive Vinaigrette

Serves 4.

1 cup uncooked Israeli couscous
¼ cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1 Tablespoon capers
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 (7 ounce) packages 98% fat-free chicken breast in water

1. Cook couscous according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain.
2. Combine olives, parsley, capers, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic and chicken. Add couscous. Stir to combine. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Source: Cooking Light, July 2003

I did make a few changes. This was not about using the exact recipe. It was about ridding my kitchen of stuff that had been there for way too long. First, I did not use fresh lemon juice. I did not have any and I was not about to go to the store. I used two tablespoons of red wine vinegar instead. I have also never purchased chicken breast in water and was not about to do it for this recipe. Instead I used one chicken breast half. I poached the breast and used the liquid to cook the couscous. (Remember, waste not, want not.) I am also adding a few cherry tomatoes to mine. And that will be my lunch! I hope you had fun reading this blog. And I hope it brought back memories of your mother or grandmother. Let us know about your mother food stories. We would love to hear them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


We have this thing in nutrition. We are always telling people to consume a variety of foods. Recently I have been thinking about variety and what variety really means. Here is my example. Take a stroll through the produce aisle and you will find about one of everything. In some neighborhoods, you may find two, but rarely does one find more than two varieties of anything, except maybe apples and oranges.

Eggplants are one example. There used to be one main type of eggplant – the large purple globe type. Recently, I have found the Japanese variety. These tend to be long and skinny. When visiting farmers markets and ethnic grocery stores, I am fascinated by the amount of variety of foods.

Ethnic grocery stores sell items that I long to become knowledgeable about. What can I say; I am fascinated about all things food. We usually think of eggplants as purple and glossy. Eggplants are available in a wide variety of sizes, colors and shapes. Colors of eggplant range from white to green to purple stripped. They are a member of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes. Botanically, the eggplant is a fruit and is classified as a berry, containing numerous small edible seeds. Most eggplants are slightly bitter with a spongy texture.

Salting and rinsing sliced eggplants is a common practice. Salting reduces the amount of bitterness. Since eggplants have a spongy texture, they are capable of absorbing oil. Salting collapses some of the cells and reduces the amount of oil absorbed. The spongy texture can be used to your advantage when making dishes with sauces, such as lasagna or moussaka.

Eggplant (Aubergine) Dip

1 large eggplant, about 1 pound
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup chopped parsley
½ teaspoon salt
Hot pepper, to taste
1 medium tomato, finely chopped

1. Cook eggplant, whole, in an oven or grill, until it has softened. Place in a paper bag and allow to steam. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, remove the skin.

2. Chop eggplant into small pieces. (Do not use a blender.) In a bowl, combine eggplant with the remaining ingredients.

3. If desired, a small finely chopped tomato can be added to this dish.

Notes on this recipe: There is an old saying that we eat with our eyes first. Well, those people who adhere to this philosophy will not be eating this dish. In short, this is an “ugly” dish. I do think the chopped tomatoes help. At my home we ate this as a side dish. When we “finished” eating, some of us ate the leftovers on top of bread.

Here’s another eggplant recipe. It’s perfect for the summer. Briam (Greek Roasted Vegetables) During my travels in Greece, I found this to be a very common dish. Basically, it is roasted vegetables and roasted vegetables appear to be the 'in' thing. This recipe can easily be adapted to what is in season. Traditionally, I believe this recipe is made with eggplant, zucchini and cooked in a savory tomato sauce. I even found one recipe that added feta cheese. If only, I could have found that before I made my dish. Here is my version of briam.

Serves 6.

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ¼” slices
Salt and black pepper
2 small eggplants, about 1 pound, total
2 small zucchini
1 medium onion
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1½ cups fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Toss potatoes and ¼ cup oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to roasting pan. Bake, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

2. Slice eggplants and zucchini in half lengthwise. Slice crosswise into ½” slices. Cut onion in half and each half into fourths.

3. In a large bowl, combine remaining oil, eggplant, zucchini, and onion. Add oregano and garlic. Add more salt and pepper, if desired. Add vegetables to potatoes. Stir to combine. Bake until done, about 45 minutes.

4. Add tomatoes and continue baking for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Note: I made this recipe on a gas grill. It worked perfectly. This is an easy recipe and I will make it again.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cherry Cheese Pie - A Perfect No Bake Dessert

As a teenager, I discovered a recipe for a cherry cheese pie. For a teenager, it was quite simple – sugar, cream cheese, Dream Whip (yes, I’m that old) and cherry pie filling. For more information on Dream Whip, check out this site http://bit.ly/aS6m7D. I have updated the recipe slightly. I now use readymade whipped topping. The pie filling has been replaced with jams or fresh fruit.

I have been thinking about this recipe a lot because it has been so dang hot. I thought what a perfect time to bring this recipe out again. This is one of those no cook desserts that is perfect for this time of year.

Cherry Cheese Pie

Serves 8.

1package (8 ounce) cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla flavoring
1 container (8 ounce) whipped topping
1 Graham cracker crust
1 cup fruit topping, your choice

1. Beat cream cheese and sugar together. Add vanilla flavoring. Blend in about 1 cup of whipped topping until mixture is smooth. Add the remainder of the topping. Spread mixture into pie crust. Chill for at least 3 hours.

2. Top with fruit of your choice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tomatoes - At Their Prime

I decided that tomatoes should have their very own posting. And why not? Farmer’s markets are overflowing with lots of varieties of tomatoes. They are a perennial favorite of home gardeners. Tomatoes are everywhere – for now. In a few weeks the good ones will be gone until next year. So why not enjoy them in their prime.

Botanically speaking the tomato is a fruit. We consume the tomato primarily as a vegetable. That means tomatoes are usually found in savory dishes. Tomatoes are consumed raw, cooked in sauces, soups, as part of a sandwich, and salads. Occasionally, tomatoes are used to make jams and preserves.

When most of us think of tomatoes, we think of the basic red or maybe the cherry or grape tomato. There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes. They range in color from green, to yellow, to orange, to red and probably a few others.
  • Most tomatoes found in the grocery store are referred to as “slicing” or “globe”.
  • Beefsteak tomatoes are large and are often used for sandwiches. Although these are grown by home gardeners, they are found less frequently in commercial use.
  • Plum or paste tomatoes have a higher solids content and are good for sauce.
  • Cherry tomatoes are small and round. These are often sweet and generally eaten in salads.
  • Grape tomatoes, the newest commercially available tomato, are small and oblong. They too are frequently used in salads.
Give some of these other tomatoes a try. You may be surprised at how different the flavors really are.

Recently home gardeners and farmer’s market vendors have been showing off heirloom tomatoes. These are varieties that have been passed through several generations. These generally have some characteristic that the grower likes. Heirloom varieties include Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter. There are several companies such as Seed Savers (http://www.seedsavers.org/) that are good sources of heirloom seeds. 

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Serves 4.

1teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 Tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes

In a small bowl, combine salt, mustard, mayonnaise and black pepper. Slowly stir in the vinegar. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Toss with tomatoes and serve immediately.

Notes on This Recipe
This is a variation on a recipe I found on a website. It was quite interesting reading the comments. One reader added parmesan or blue cheese. Someone else added red onions. While others added basil and yellow bell peppers. That’s the fun thing about cooking, you can change a recipe to meet your tastes and it is all perfectly fine. I found this dressing to be a bit acidic. If you prefer less acid, just reduce the amount of vinegar.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Zucchini Giving You Trouble?

This time of year is when zucchini start to give you all kinds of trouble. The only way to rid of yourself of them is to leave them on your neighbor’s porch in the dead of night. Zucchini is quite prolific, thus the need for neighbors.

Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) is a member of the gourd family and in some countries is known as courgette. They can be yellow, green or light green. Although a few zucchini are round, they are generally long with a ridged shaped similar to a cucumber.

Nutritionally, zucchini are low in calories and is a good source of vitamins A, C and fiber. Zucchini has a mild flavor, making it suitable for a variety of dishes. It can be found in dishes from appetizer to dessert. The simplest method to prepare zucchini is to steam them or sauté in a small amount of butter or oil.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

1⅓ cups sugar
½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2½ cups all purpose flour
6 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups grated zucchini
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
2. Mix sugar, butter and oil in a large bowl.
3. Combine milk and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add to sugar mixture. Add eggs and vanilla and blend well. Sift together flour and cocoa. Add baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder and salt to dry ingredients.
4. Stir into sugar mixture. Mix in zucchini. Pour into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar before serving.

Need a few more zucchini recipes, try these from Cooking Light - http://bit.ly/bH34uc

A Few Tips for Ridding Yourself of Zucchini…
1. Pick zucchini while they are really small, about 3 to 4 inches. Smaller zucchini are more tender than larger ones. Try them stir-fried, toss them into a soup, cut into sticks, bread and serve as an appetizer with marinara sauce.

2. Hide them. Yes, that’s correct. They are relatively bland and take on the flavor of other ingredients. Put zucchini in chocolate cakes, cookies, meat loaf.

3. Grate and freeze it. You may be grumbling about them now, but in the dead of winter, you’ll appreciate those prolific plants. Try putting zucchini into spaghetti sauce. Your kids may find it, but at least you can enjoy watching them try to pick it out.

4. Make a zucchini donation. Some food pantries and organizations that assist low income populations will be happy to take your excess zucchini.

5. Finally, host a zucchini party. Hand out a few of those excess zucchini to your non gardening friends and ask them to make a dish for the party.