Saturday, June 30, 2012

Zucchini Soup

I have a terrible confession. I cannot grow zucchini. This would be bad enough if I did not consider myself a gardener. Because we all know that apes, if given zucchini seeds, will be able to throw them on the ground and successfully grow zucchini. The fact that I do consider myself a gardener (albeit not a long time vet) makes it all the more shameful. I'm not sure what my problem is. Bugs? Heat? Bad karma from a previous life in which I was a really cocky beefsteak tomato? I'm not sure. Whatever the case, every year I faithfully plant my little zucchini and crookneck squash seeds. And every year several plants grow up and flower and look healthy and flower some more and house bees and flower more and maybe produce an inch-long zucchini that then withers and flower some more. Clearly, what I really need to learn to do is stuff and fry up those flowers (take that, male zucchini flowers), but I'm guessing there would be one and only one person in this household willing to try such a delicacy so I'd still sort of have my problem.

The good news is that plenty of other people (and most likely several species of lower-level primates as well) do not have my problem. Thus, even though I seem completely incapable of producing a lovely (or even ugly) zucchini, I am the happy receptacle of other peoples' too-much-zucchini problem.

Last week I got a bunch. I was supposed to give some to my friend Emilee who was at my house, but I forgot (sorry, Emilee), which left me with a lot of zucchini and yellow squash. Not those delicate little 4-inch beauties you find at the supermarket either. Nope. These were the summer-is-on, foot-long-and-fat kind of zucchini.

I shredded and froze some. I made zucchini bread. I made a squash casserole. So I took drastic measures and made this soup. It's nice because it uses a whole lot of zucchini and doesn't even have to stuff that zucchini with cheese, bread crumbs, and butter.

The recipe I give you is a bit of a blank slate. It is pretty good on its own. But it is much much better with your favorite seasoning thrown in. My favorite is dill (which I, happily, am able to grow by the booty-full). I also really like cumin or curry. I also really like these seasonings in combination (i.e. cumin and dill--yum). I've also heard that a good sprinkle of Italian seasoning won't do you wrong, but I haven't tried it yet. I actually leave the soup plain and then each day when I have a bowlful, I add a sprinkle of whatever seasoning I'm in the mood for that day. What can I say? I live an exciting life.

This soup also freezes well. So if you get a little souped out, you can freeze a batch and pull it out in a few months when temperatures are drifting down and you get a wee hankering for a bit of summer combined with a breezy fall day.

Zucchini Soup
serves 4-8
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cost: $.45
onion: .15, zucchini: free, broth: free if you made it yourself; otherwise about .30 from granules

Note: If you've got one of those enormous zucchini, cut it in quarters long-ways and scoop or cut out the seeds.

Another note: I say 4 C in this recipe. That's kind of an estimate. You can probably get away with 4-6 cups. The original recipe called for 4 four-inch zucchini.

1 generous Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 C zucchini
salt and pepper
4 C chicken broth

Heat oil in a pot. Add onion and stir for a couple of minutes. Add zucchini and stir. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let zucchini cook with onion until they're both tender and (hopefully) getting a little color. (Note: If you jam your pot full like I sometimes do, you won't get much color--that's okay too, but the brown bits do add some nice flavor.)

Add broth, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until vegetables are very very soft.

Puree in blender or with an immersion blender (don't burn yourself, eh).

Reheat if necessary. Serve with dill, cumin, curry, or Italian seasoning. If using fresh herbs, give them a squeeze with your hand to release some of their oils and then let them steep in the warm soup for a few minutes. (Note: I love this with fresh dill, but don't do what I did in the picture up top. It's pretty, but it's like eating hair. Either leave the dill attached to its stalk so you can remove it before eating or eat around it, or chop it finely.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Monthly Shopping List Template

Lately I've been trying to shop a little bit less. Partly this is because I believe I spend more money the more I shop, especially those "little" trips, where I just need to "grab a few things." Yet, over the summer the even larger reason I want to shop less is that I have 4 children at home with me and they do not want to go shopping. When they do end up going shopping, they want pretty much every brightly colored food that exists at their eye level. And you know what that means.

So I've been avoiding shopping. I've been trying to do a large monthly shopping trip with weekly milk/produce runs. Which requires a little planning. One of the things I've done is to create a huge master grocery list. It contains almost everything I could possibly need for that month. Which isn't to say I will be buying everything on that list. I plan to put the list in a sheet protector and then make a little dry erase check by each thing I need that month. The purpose of the list is to keep me from forgetting things. Because forgetting things is the main reason I end up going back to the store for whatever basic item I forgot. And 12 other things. And a cookie. Just kidding about the cookie part. Well, sometimes.

I realize my list might not work exactly for you, but it might give you a pretty good idea of where to begin if you also wish to shop less, but more efficiently.


Pantry Stable Items:
Whole Wheat
Brown Sugar
Powdered Sugar
Tomato Sauce
Tomato Soup
Diced Tomatoes
Evaporated Milk
Mayo/Mir. Whip
Cream of Wheat
Baking Soda
Baking Powder
Canola Oil
Chocolate Chips
Lemon Juice
Lime Juice
Tomato Juice

Mozzarella cheese
Cheddar cheese
Plain yogurt
Other yogurt
Sour Cream
Cream cheese
Cottage cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cheese sticks
Other cheese

Non-Food Items:
Dishwashing soap
Laundry Detergent
Dental Floss
Toilet Paper
Paper towels
Hand soap
Bar soap

Fruits/Vegetables We Like:

Freezer Items.Frozen Meat:
Juice Concentrate
Tortilla shells
Hot dogs

Meat We Need:

Cat food
Cat littler
Duck food

Fruits/Vegetables We Need:

Recipe Specific Items:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Whole Grain Chocolate Pancakes

Okay, I'm starting to feel sincerely guilty about the fact that it seems we have only been eating breakfast foods and chocolate (sometimes apparently in combination) around here. Clearly we have intense issues, and low moral characters, and laziness, and grain addictions (which are woefully out of style right now).

I'd like to say that it's not really so, that we spend lots of time eating normal meals with meat, and that we are not completely lazy or grain addicted. And then I realize that I'm planning to make no-rise cinnamon rolls tonight for dinner. (Whole grain! With ricotta cheese and buttermilk! And blueberry (fresh, local) filling! It's for my kids; they're so picky; I swear this is the reason!) Okay, fine, so maybe you're not buying any of these excuses. But before you stalk off to the library to check out the latest book on Paleo dieting, let me say this, I do have other recipes and I promise that someday I will get them to you. Okay, someday soon--how's that. I have a butt kicking (and super easy) pasta salad recipe that needs sharing and I just made some chicken tikka masala worthy of your love. And I have a zucchini soup ready to eat up some of your surplus. But I forgot to take pictures of 2 of these items (is that a laziness issue or a low moral fiber issue--I'll get back to you). So today you're getting some chocolate pancakes. They're good too. And moral in their own way. The cocoa adds a richness to the overall product that demands less sugary syrup to make it good. And they're awesome with homemade whipped cream. Oh, wait, you probably don't count that as a virtue, do you (although really you should). They're quick and easy on a hot summer day--perfect for a late breakfast with your kids or a lazy dinner to share with whomever your lazy dinners are shared. I liked mine best with a bit of whipped cream and some sliced bananas. As long as you've left the low-fat '80s and not quite stepped into the gluten-free '10s, there's plenty of love for a meal like that.

Whole Grain Chocolate Pancakes
makes 6-8
Prep and cook time: 15 minutes
Cost: $.52
(flour: .20, cocoa: .10, milk: .20, other stuff: .02)

1 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
good dash salt
3 Tbsp cocoa
1 1/4 C milk
2 Tbsp oil

Combine dry ingredients. Whisk in milk and oil. (If this is too thick for your liking add a wee bit more milk.)

Pour onto a medium hot skillet that has been greased. Cook until bottoms are cooked (they'll have a bit of a golden edge even though they're dark) and flip, cooking another minute or so until cooked through.

You can serve with syrup, but I love these with a glop of homemade whipped cream and a sprinkle of fruit.

Tip: Making a big batch? Keep your pancakes warm on a cookie sheet in an oven set at 200 degrees.


Linked to Sweets for a Saturday

Friday, June 22, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Cake (Two of them actually)

I know I should be posting something with berries. But don't worry, flourless chocolate cake is the perfect palette for a generous garnish of berries. And also, I just can't help myself. Several weeks ago, I wanted to make a flourless chocolate cake for a Sunday dessert. But I couldn't decide which flourless chocolate cake to make. So I made two. What can I say people? I'm a scientist. Or, well, at least where chocolate cake is concerned. I wanted to know which one I really liked the best. And all you lucky people get the benefit of that.

I tried one from America's Test Kitchen. And one from allrecipes. I'd had both before and I knew I really liked both. But I wanted to know which one was best.

I should confess, too, that there was one I really really wanted to win. The Test Kitchen recipe had only eggs, butter, and dark chocolate. Heck, that's not even dessert. That's breakfast. Which I say with my tongue in my cheek, although truly if your breakfast consists of little delicacies from a place that rhymes with Wispy Dreme. Or of waffles slathered in butter and syrup. Or of crepes smeared with Nutella. Or of really a very many sweet and rather unhealthy treats that we Americans--for reasons mysterious to dietitians throughout the world--consider perfectly acceptable as one of our three balanced meals, well then, you might as well add that flourless chocolate cake to your breakfast repertoire because when compared to donuts, cream and sugar filled coffees, and stacks of corn-syrup slathered white flour patties, this flourless cake is downright virtuous. The other reason I wanted it to win is that it divides really neatly into small one person servings. If you, on your little lonesome were to get a hankering one night for something perfectly decadent, you could just whip one up, bake it into a ramekin, and there you go.

I know some people think I'm nuts, but I have a strong affinity for the individual-sized dessert. I know it seems inefficient, but I really like a treat I can enjoy that one night I really want it, and be done.

Also, this cake is almost ridiculously easy to put together.

So, yes, I wanted that one to win.

But it didn't. I liked the other one better. Don't get me wrong, I liked them both. Kip couldn't even decide which he liked better because he liked them both a lot. But I definitely liked the recipe with the 3/4 C sugar better. I hope you will all forgive me for my weakness of character. To make up for it, here's a tip: You don't have to eat it all. This stuff freezes really well. I partitioned mine off into little slices with parchment paper in between and then--

well, then I was going to freeze it except that everyone in my family ate them. But trust me, this type of treat freezes beautifully. Some even say it's better after a few days in the freezer. So you can have your single-serving dessert and eat it too. And then you can have it again later in a month when you get another hankering. That is, unless, your spouse or children got the hankering first. If they're prone to that sort of thing, hide it behind the bag of frozen broccoli already.

Note: Both these cakes are best if cooked until they register 140 degrees on an instant read thermometer. This is when the sides are set and the middle jiggles. However, if you miss that point, as I have done several times in my busy and slightly distracted life (sometimes letting it get to 170-180 degrees), do not despair. This cake still rocks.

Eat It For Breakfast Flourless Chocolate Cake
adapted from Best Recipes Cookbook
Makes 1 nine-inch round
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 15-25 minutes
Cool time: a day if you're good, otherwise, a couple hours
Cost: $4.55
(eggs: .80, chocolate: 2.50 if using not the highest quality in the universe, butter: 1.25)

8 large eggs, cold
1 pound bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate, chopped
1 C (2 sticks or 16 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp almond extract, optional

Note: You see how this could easily be "single-servinged." Use 1 egg, 2 oz. chocolate, and 2 Tbsp butter. Bake in a small ramekin.

Put rack in the lower-middle portion of oven and heat to 325. Line the bottom of an 8 or 9 inch spring-form pan with parchment paper and grease the sides of the pan.

Now set this on a cookie sheet or in a large roasting pan. (That's because you're going to bake it in a water bath, although if you forget this part, as I have several times, it will still be mighty tasty.) Get a pot of water simmering while you prepare the cake.

Beat eggs until they double in volume. They're also going to look lighter when you done. It's nice if you have a stand mixer for this, but a hand mixer will do too. Here are some before and after pic's.



Melt the chocolate and butter. Do this in 20-30 second intervals in the microwave, mixing in between. Do this until it's all melted and well-mixed. Add vanilla/almond extract if using.

Fold 1/3 of the beaten egg mixture into the chocolate mixture. Note: To "fold" does not mean to "mix the crap out of." It means to kindly, gently stir it, as though you are softly flipping a pillow over, and over, and over again. Do this until it's all mixed in. 

Then add another third of the chocolate. And fold. And add the rest and fold. 

By the end it will look like this.

 Pour it into your prepared pan. Put your prepared pan in your other pan and put them in the oven.

Then, if you remember, pour your simmering water into the pan holding your pan, so that the water goes about halfway up the side of your pan (or as far as you can manage without spilling boiling water all over yourself or sloshing it in your cake batter or whatever). 

Bake about 15-25 minutes (I give a long range because if using a 9-inch pan, you'll need less time). The sides will be set, but the middle will jiggle and you'll think it won't set, but if it reads 140 degrees on an instant read thermometer, then it's good. Take it out (without sloshing hot hot water from the water bath all over yourself). It will set; I promise. 

If you're patient, cover and refrigerate for a day. This makes it even more silky smooth. But then you might really be tempted to eat it for breakfast, so maybe you should just eat it now. It's still really good. 

If desired, serve with whipped cream and fresh berries.

My Favorite Flourless Chocolate Cake (aka Weak Charactered Flourless Chocolate Cake)
adapted from allrecipes
Prep, cook, and cool times same as recipe above
Cost: $3.25
(chocolate: 1.00, unsweetened choc: .75, butter: 1.00, sugar: .10, eggs: .40)

6 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (1 C)
2 (1 oz) squares unsweetened chocolate, chopped well
3/4 C butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C water
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350- degrees. Grease an 8 or 9 inch springform pan and line with parchment paper.

Combine chocolate chips, unsweetened chocolate, and melted butter.

Heat water and 1/2 C pluse 2 T sugar in a saucepan until boiling. Pour over chocolate/butter mixture. Stir until smooth.

Beat eggs with remaining 2 Tbsp sugar until thick and pale (just like pictures in recipe above).

Fold into chocolate mixture.

Place this in a water bath (as instructed in recipe above).

Bake for 15-20 minutes (maybe a little more if using an 8-inch pan). Remove when sides set and center jiggly and it reads 140 on an instant read thermometer.

Let cool.


Linked to Sweets for a Saturday

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Five 10-Minute Summer Meals

I mentioned that I have been a wee bit uninspired lately. The good thing about that? It gets me thinking about cheap, easy, short-cooking meals. You can go out for burgers or pizza if you want. I won't stop you; it's summer and all. But if you want some nice, fresh, home-cooked meals that won't make you think too hard or heat up your house, and that will taste pretty dang awesome too, here are five.

1. BLT's. Try this one with avocado mayonnaise to blow your mind. Throw in a salad in a bag if you want to make it healthier.

2. Quesadillas with chopped baby chopped spinach. Chop the spinach small and it'll melt right into that cheese. I like to dip them in salsa, guacomole, sour cream, or ranch dressing, but I bet a million bucks that if you've got some leftover avocado mayonnaise it will rock your quesadilla world.

3. Browned Butter Tilapia. Serve it with couscous and some steamed broccoli.

4. Pasta salad with chicken and tarragon sauce. I admit that the pasta will take a little longer than 10 minutes unless you get something nice and small, which you could. You can make this with 1 C leftover chicken or use a can of chicken to make the 10-minute mark. If you've got another 10 minutes, though, boil yourself some chicken and pasta and have a from-scratch meal. Cook the pasta until al dente, run it under cold water until cool. Add the chicken, 1/2 C mayo, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 2 tsp mustard, and 1 Tbsp chopped tarragon. (We'll have more on this salad later. It's super simple, but super good.) Add some chopped olives if you wish or chopped tomatoes. (Or finely diced cucumber or thinly sliced celery or peas or whatever it is you've got languishing in your fridge.)

4. Omelet with tomatoes, chopped baby spinach, and cheddar. The nice thing about an omelet is that it can act as a sort of catch all. You can throw leftover veggies from the week into it. You can serve it with leftover couscous mixed with any leftover fish/chicken/broccoli/browned butter sauce/avocado mayonnaise you've got and it'll be yum.

Shopping list:
1 bag baby spinach: 1.79
1 avocado: 1.00
1 breast chicken or 1 can chicken: 2.00
1 lb tilapia: 5.00
6 eggs: .60
1 head broccoli: .75
1 box couscous: 2.50
6 slices bacon: 1.25
1 lb small pasta such as baby shells: 1.00
1-2 tomatoes: .75
salad in a bag: 2.50
1 package tortillas: 1.00
8 oz cheddar: 1.79
Total: $17.93 or about 3.59/night for 4 servings.

Other stuff you'll need, but probably have:
lemon juice
tarragon--fresh or dry

Monday, June 18, 2012

Healthy Fruit Pizza

It's time for a confession: I've been really uninspired in the kitchen lately. All I've really wanted to make is fruit pies. And I'm told that this is not appropriate dinner food. Sadly, even if I did make such a luxury for dinner, at least half of my kids would probably complain about it anyway. Boo hoo for me and all that.

We've been sticking to pasta salads, fish, and scrambled eggs--foods that are really quick and don't require much foresight. Or cook time. Or effort.

Then last week, while making Greek yogurt with a refrigerator full of cheap fresh fruit, I had a wonderful idea--an idea kind of like pie for dinner. Only easier. And healthier. And 8 minutes of oven time. Hello summer.

(P.S. I realize that for some families the idea of eating this for dinner is, like sacrilege, although it's really quite balanced, if a little sweet. It's got whole grain, considerably less sugar, yogurt instead of cream cheese, which means more calcium and healthy bacterial cultures, and let's not forget the fruit. Still, if that's not good enough for you, you can call it a healthy dessert if you want. Or make it for breakfast because we all know that breakfast gets away with more than dinner does.)

Healthy Fruit Pizza
Makes a medium pizza, which is 2-4 adult servings, depending on the type of adults living in your house
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cook time: 6-8 minutes
Cool time: 30 minutes
Cost: $2.00
(flour: .05, whole wheat flour: .10, sugar: .10, butter: .20, egg: .10, lemon: .20, Greek yogurt: 1.00, fruit: .25)

Crust (double this for a large pizza):

1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/4 C sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp butter
1 egg
zest from 1/2 of a small lemon (optional; my son said he didn't like the lemony flavor, but I'm ga-ga for it)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

In food processor, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and butter. Pulse until crumb-like.

In small bowl, whisk egg, zest, and vanilla. Pour this into crumb and pulse until it comes together into a lump of slightly crumbly dough.

Press this onto a pizza pan. (We made a medium. If you double this, you'll have a respectable large.)

Bake for 6-8 minutes. Don't wait for it to brown or it'll be crumbly and unpleasant.

Let cool to room temp and add toppings.


6 oz. Greek yogurt (I used full fat)
1/4-1/2 C sugar (We used more and I thought it could have gone a little less sweet. If your family is used to less sweet things, you could totally get away with only 1/4-6 Tbsp sugar.)
Sliced fruit of your choice (we used blueberries, strawberries, and grapes)

Whisk together yogurt and sugar.

Spread onto cooled crust. Cut and then add fruit toppings. You'll notice I said to cut the pizza first. That's because...Tip: Cut this before adding your fruit. I read this tip somewhere after the fact and realized it was pure brilliance. Trust me, slicing a strawberry or other firm fruit when atop a soft filling can make for a messy slice.

Eat and enjoy. I had a slice of this with a bit of a leftover omlette. But even without the egg, it's a very complete and balanced meal if complete and balanced is your thing.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to Make Greek Yogurt

First things first: What exactly is Greek yogurt?

Well, after a quick search on the Internet, the jury's still out on that one. Let's start with what we know.

Greek yogurt is:
-Thick and creamy.
-Yummy and popular.
-Higher in protein and (I believe) those good bacterial cultures.
-Strained. Meaning that--gasp--it's really just normal yogurt that has been strained so that much of the whey (watery stuff you find on your yogurt) has been removed. This explains the higher nutritional content. It's essentially concentrated yogurt, so naturally many of the nutrients are also concentrated.
-Besides being just normal yogurt that has been strained, it is often higher in fat. I read that the authentic stuff can range from 4%-10% fat. This is where the jury starts to get confused. When Greek yogurt first came out in America, it really did seem to be full-fat (3.5-4%). And then came the 2% kinds and sure enough the skim varieties were soon to follow, leaving us with a decidedly Americanized version of Greek yogurt. Oh well. I guess this is why Americans are so skinny while those Greek people are morbidly obese. Oh, wait.

Anyway, sarcastic digs at our low-fat culture aside, Greek yogurt is really easy to make. And by "make" I don't mean actually make, (although you could do that too; making yogurt really isn't so crazy; I've even seen a recipe for it in the crock pot). By "make" I mean to create from normal plain yogurt.

How To Make Greek Yogurt

You'll need:
-A cheesecloth, tea towel, or several layers of coffee filters.
-A bowl.
-A strainer or clothes pins.
-Regular yogurt

Note: I know these instructions look long and detailed, but this is really crazy easy. I was just trying to be very clear.

1. Get your bowl. 

2. Put a tea towel (or cheesecloth or layers of coffee filters) over top the bowl.

3. Secure the towel with clothes pins. If you don't have clothes pins because you are wacky full of character enough to want to make Greek yogurt, but not yet wacky full of character enough to hang your clothes on a line, you can put a strainer over your bowl and then place the tea towel over that.
Note: I use tea towels because that's what I have. I've tried several layers of coffee filters and they work too, but they aren't quite as sturdy or, when layered thick, quite as porous and I prefer the towels. If using towels, they will need to be well-washed afterwards possibly with bleach or they will get really stinky after a few times of mediocre washing.

4. Once your tea towel is secured over your bowl, dump your yogurt into it. You can use whatever milk fat you'd prefer. I've made it from skim and I've made it from full. (News flash: The full fat is a lot yummier, but they're both creamy and punchy and interesting.) You could probably even take vanilla or another flavored yogurt and make yourself a thick, creamy, flavored yogurt, but I haven't done this, so I make no promises.

5. Let it sit. I put mine loosely covered in the refrigerator. However, you can safely leave your yogurt on the counter for several hours. Remember that at its heart, yogurt is soured, thickened milk, so room temperature is not its sworn enemy.

This is how I loosely cover it--with the edges of the tea towel; we try to keep it simple around here.

Note: Letting it sit will take at least a couple of hours. The longer you leave it the thicker it will become. If you leave it overnight or for 24 hours, you will actually end up with something akin to a soft cheese--something, in fact, that can be used in place of cream cheese at least in savory recipes (I haven't tried it in sweet). This is kind of fun and it makes for a healthier alternative to cream cheese (more calcium and the bacterial cultures). If you buy brand name cream cheese, making your own is even cost effective. Anyway, you'll have to check it every few hours, and see when it gets to the thickness you like it.

Today, I left mine for about 6 hours.



You can see how thick the yogurt has become. 

Today, I used this amazing full-fat yogurt that I intend to marry if Kip ever leaves me (ha, that'll show him). Today I used 6 ounces. After six hours, it weighed in at 3 ounces (which is a number so mathematically simple I could just kiss it, though I'm sure this number will vary somewhat depending on how much yogurt you dump into the bowl). The yogurt cost 6.99 for 5 pounds, which means that it cost approximately 6.99 for 2.5 pounds (or 40 ounces) of Greek yogurt. Which comes out to just over $1.00 for 6 oz of very thick full-fat Greek yogurt. Which is a pretty good price. If we had used cheap Aldi plain yogurt (at less than $2/2 lb, this would have been about $1.80/lb (or about .67 for 6 oz.), which is really not bad. And you still have the whey to throw into smoothies or use as a soup base if you wish. However, for me one of the big advantages of knowing how to make Greek yogurt is that you can do it even if your store doesn't carry Greek yogurt or if they still only carry fancy varieties. You can make it however thick you like. And, if thick enough, you can use it as a super healthy, super natural alternative for cream cheese or sour cream.

I'm hoping to use my new Greek yogurt on a healthy fruit pizza for dinner tonight. If it goes well you should see that recipe soon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Seedless Raspberry Bars (and Pink Raspberry Lemonade)

It's raspberry season again. This year when my friend gave me a bunch of her black raspberries (we actually grow some raspberries ourselves, but end up eating them all off the brambles, so it's good to have friends), I decided to revisit these delicious raspberry bars, only this time I wanted to make them without seeds. I don't mind seeds, but sometimes little or picky mouths do.

I'm not going to lie. It wasn't just as easy to take the seeds out. But it really wasn't that bad. It took me about 10 minutes, or about the time the bottom crust takes to bake. This was worth it to me to have people not complain about seeds. (Also, you can use the seeds to make a pretty pink raspberry lemonade. But I'll get to that in a minute..)

Here's what I did to de-seed the raspberries:

1. Give them a quick blend in the blender, just enough to mash them. This might not work if you have a super powerful blender like BlendTec or Vitamix because they will pulverize your seeds (of course, if they're pulverized, them maybe your problem is solved--you can have your seeds and, um, eat them too). I just gave mine a couple pulses in my crappy blender and things were smashed.

2. Mash them through a strainer.

This takes a few minutes and a wee bit of elbow grease. It's why people without picky kids aren't as muscular as the rest of us (ha, just a little joke there to make myself feel better--you guys are probably strong too). You'll just press and press until what you've got left is a bunch of seeds that can be mashed together into a sort of ball.

(wow, do you think that counter could get any cleaner?)

If it doesn't hold together in a ball, keep pressing because there's more juice and pulp and yummy stuff yet to be gotten.

3. Set the ball of seeds aside (for the lemonade, remember) and proceed with the recipe with your now lovely smooth raspberry sauce.

4. If you wish to make pink raspberry lemonade, mix the seeds with 1 C lemon juice. Shake or mix it up until it's a nice pretty color. Then strain those seeds out one more time. You'll be left with a pink lemon juice. Add 1 C sugar and 4 C cold water. Mix until sugar dissolves and drink up. Or make into popsicles. We did both. (But I somehow erased the pictures...)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sweet Potato Tahini Soup

It's time for another Secret Recipe Club recipe. This month I had Searching for Spice.

To continue my odd June fetish with warm soups, I chose her sweet potato tahini soup. It just sounded good. And wholesome. But it sounded good first. Also, I have a bag of sweet potatoes languishing on my shelf. It needed some attention. Also, I'd never added tahini to a soup (or anything except hummus) before and it sounded intriguing.

This soup was delicious. And wholesome. (And really cheap, but still filling.) If you'd like to try it, but don't have your own languishing bag of sweet potatoes she's got a similar one for carrots, which are more seasonally correct right now. Though I really did enjoy the play of that sweet potato against the spice that was chili and curry. I'm not much into sweet soups (though a really good one can win me over) and this was not sweet. It had a really lovely balance of flavors that kept the sweetness of the sweet potato from taking over. It was just an undertone and it was perfect. After an afternoon of painting a garden fence (it's done; hallelujah) I snarfed the whole thing down myself. Next time I'm making a bigger batch.

Sweet Potato Tahini Soup
adapted from Searching for Spice
Serves 2 (or one really hungry person)
Prep and cook time: 45 minutes
Cost: $.45
sweet potato: .20, onion: .15, other stuff: .10--guessing a bit here, I admit)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 chili pepper or a dash of chili powder (if you're a weakling like me)
1 tsp curry powder
1 sweet potato, diced
1 Tbsp red lentils, rinsed (I'm sure another variety of lentils would have rocked too)
1 1/3 C water
1/2 Tbsp tahini
salt to taste
cilantro for garnish, optional
a splash of coconut milk or cream wouldn't hurt either, but I was good with the soup as it was

Heat oil in a pot. Add onion and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, and curry. Cook until fragrant (30-60 seconds).

Add sweet potatoes and lentils. Stir them around for a minute or so, then cover them with water. (This was Corina's instruction and I loved how instinctive it was; if you're not so into instinct, I used about 1 1/3 C water.)

Bring to boil. Then reduce to simmer, cover, and cook until sweet potatoes are tender--about 20 minutes, though maybe longer if you're doubling this recipe.

Add tahini and stir in until it dissolves.

Add salt to taste--I gave it several solid dashes.

I mashed the soup with a potato masher, although I'm sure you could leave it chunky or puree it.

Serve with cilantro, coconut milk, or cream if you wish. And save some for lunch already.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Salmon with Lime Butter

When you marry the pickiest man on earth (okay, not quite) you don't expect him to like fish. When he does, you take advantage of that as much as you can, or at least a couple times a week. Salmon is a favorite of ours. We're perfectly happy to eat it with lemon and a bit of dill, but occasionally we try to jazz it up a bit.

The other great thing about fish? You can cook up some fillets in ten minutes or less.

This lime butter sauce adds only 2 more minutes to the cooking time and turns a regular old weekday fish into something that feels decadent and fancy. We eat it with rice and broccoli, and dinner's on in 20 minutes or less. (P.S. If you don't like fish, you can use this sauce on chicken to very good effect as well.)

Salmon with Lime Butter
Adapted from 365 Ways to Cook Chicken
Serves 4
Prep and cook time: 15 minutes
Cost: $5.75
(salmon: 5.00, butter: .25, lime: .50)

1 Tbsp olive oil
4 salmon fillets
6 Tbsp butter
juice from one lime (about 2 Tbsp)
zest if desired
dill and chives for garnish

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add fillets and cook about 4 minutes on each side. When fish is cooked through and can be easily flaked with a fork.

Remove the salmon to a plate and keep warm (I usually just put another plate over top of it.) Wipe out pan. (This is necessary. If you leave the drippings from the oil, the butter-lime concoction will separate.) Now remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for a minute. If you don't do this as soon as you add the lime juice it will bubble up and evaporate.

Return your pan to the burner on low heat. Add the lime juice. When it begins to bubble, stir in the butter (and zest if using). Raise the heat a bit and stir until the butter runs clear (or nearly so). This takes a couple of minutes. Remove it from the heat. If you let it get much hotter, the butter will separate.

Pour it over the salmon. Garnish with chives and dill and serve.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Two Great Soups

Okay, so I know it's not exactly soup season. I should be posting "Two Great Ice Creams." I'll get to that.

But these soups are really great. They can be made vegetarian. And I think soups are just a really nice way to get a bunch of vegetables into your lunchtime routine. Also, if you work in an office, let's face it, you're probably wearing a sweater because due to mysterious laws of the office universe, it is required to keep the office at approximately 62 degrees in the middle of the summer when everyone is wearing their sweet little summer dresses. At least this is my experience with office work or any indoor work in the summer. If someone could please explain to me who decides to keep it so bloomin' cold inside when it's so bloomin' hot outside so that you're body goes completely schizo and there's no right way to dress for anything, I'd appreciate it.

In the meantime, take one of these soups to work. Or feed them to your hungry kids. Or just hoard them for yourself and send everybody else outside with PBJ's while you dine.

1. Split Pea Soup. I really love split pea soup. I fell in love with it when I lived for many months in Belgium and The Netherlands where they really know their soup. If you think you dislike split pea soup, it's probably because you've only ever had bad split pea soup. When I was living in Europe and raving about soup, my mom sent me a sweet little care package with (among other things) a package of split pea soup. Compared to the stuff I was eating, it should have been labeled split pea puke. Because it was not good. My point being that you really need to make it from scratch and have a decent recipe. I've only ever made it with ham or sausage or bacon, so this meatless recipe made me a little nervous. I didn't know if it'd have any flavor. Let me tell you this. It was the best split pea soup I've ever made. The lemon and zest just make it so fresh tasting and just really great. They also make it feel a little more summery (even though lemons really aren't a summer fruit). Try it.

2. Tomato and Parmesan soup. At least this is slightly appropriate for the advent of tomato season. This recipe was slightly fussy as it required several pots (I made the stovetop version--the crock pot one might be less fussy). I tried adapting it to just one pot, which worked, but then the carrots took forever to cook. I was so irritated by the time I got it off the stove, I was sure I was going to hate it. Nope. It was awesome. Especially the 2nd, 3rd, 4th days. A really wonderful and filling tomato soup.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Homemade Larabars

Everybody loves Larabars (and no, I can't figure out how to do the umlaut on my computer; can you?). Whole foodists love them for their simple ingredient lists, vegetarians and potentially even vegans love them, busy people love them, gym bunnies love them, kids love them, moms love them. I'm not sure how locavores feel about them (unless you live in CA where it must be nice and easy and guilt-free to be a locavore), but I bet that deep down they sort of love them too. In fact, I can only think of one segment of the population that doesn't love them (besides maybe people with nut allergies): cheapskates. Cheapskates might love them too; they just don't know whether they do or not. Because they've never actually been able to gulp down the idea of shelling out 2 bucks for one bar at Target.

I confess that I don't think I've ever had a real Larabar. In fact, I've been putting off this post because I've been meaning to go somewhere and actually buy a Larabar so that I could see if my own measure up. But I haven't. There are many reasons for this; some don't even have to do with price, like that by the end of my errand day I would pretty much rather have someone drill pictures in my skull than participate in that joyous activity called "wandering around the store looking for Larabars."

And then one day while eating a homemade Larabar, I realized that I didn't care if they tasted the same as the store-bought ones (though judging from the ingredient lists, they probably do) because these taste dang good.

I bought my dates from the bulk bins at the co-op in town and they were quite affordable as they are not super heavy. They had to be pitted. I was concerned that this would be a deeply painful experience and that I would never want to do it again. Turns out pitting a date is actually very easy. Generally the pit is eager to come out. You slice the date up the side and take the pit out.

It looks like a little pecan,

but I've heard that it's hard as stone. I don't wish to find out. Also, as a very serious side tip, don't leave a pile or bowl of pecan-looking pits on your table if you have young children who like nuts. They will come along and try to eat them and possibly break their teeth out. I don't know this from experience (thankfully), but it was something I realized could easily happen when I left my pile of pits on the table and Savannah came in asking me if she could eat the "nuts." It took me a minute to figure out what she meant and then I was very glad she had asked. So don't follow my bad and potentially dangerous example and please dispose of your pits immediately.

As one final note about dates, they also come with a little top part. It looks like this...

and though I didn't try to bite it, I pinched it with a fingernail and it seemed pretty darn hard too. So if you're pitting your dates, be sure you don't get any of those in with them.

Now that I've made pitting dates sound like a guaranteed trip to the dentist to restore your 17 cracked teeth, which makes purchasing a Larabar seem like an absolute steal, let's move on the recipe.

Homemade Larabars
adapted from Foodie with Family
Prep time: 10 minutes
Set time: 30 minutes
Cost: $2.90 or about .50/long bar
(dates: 1.50, almonds: .75, chocolate chips: .65)

Note: The peanut butter is optional. I've found that you don't necessarily need it if you use a soft oily nut like cashews, but I did use it when I made these with the almonds. So make up your stuff and then see if you need a little extra moisture or not.

2 C whole, pitted dates
1 C raw or toasted almonds or cashews (my favorite, but they were both good) or probably whatever nut you like
1/2 C dark chocolate chips
1 Tbsp peanut butter, option

Put you nuts and chocolate chips in the food processor and pulse until they're crumbly.

Take them out and set aside.

Put only the dates in food processor and process until they start to come together in a delightfully sticky ball.

Add nuts/chocolate back in to food processor and process until it's all incorporated.

(This was with the almonds which are drier, but evenso if you squeeze this with your hand, it will keep its shape.)

If it still seems too crumbly, add the peanut butter and pulse until incorporated.

Note: Perhaps you could just throw it all in the food processor together. It seems like it should work and that you'd end up with the same product, but this is how the original recipe instructed me to do it and it came out wonderfully and--cheaper or not--these are still somewhat pricey ingredients, so I've been afraid to try just throwing it all in together for fear it would be wonky and no one would want to eat it. Let me know if you try it.

Line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper (for easy removal). Press finished product into the pan. Let set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Cut and eat.

(I went for the smaller squares instead of the longer bars here.)

Tip: I store these in a bag or Tupperware in the fridge. They last a long time (at least a couple of weeks, but I'm betting much longer). If you want to actually have them on hand when you need them (instead of having everyone eat them because they're there), freeze them. If you stack them in layers, put a sheet of parchment or wax paper between.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Five Things to Do with "Ends"

Just a few more ideas before I finish up with things I've learned from An Everlasting Meal.

First things first:

Ends, a definition: Bones, peels, skins, scraps, stems, and well, ends--the parts of the food you usually chop off and throw away.

Now what to do with them?

1. Compost them. This is the easiest thing for most of us to do if we have a garden.  If it was grown from the ground (as in NOT dairy or meat products) it can be composted. If you have a garden, but composting seems really daunting, check out this post.

2. Feed them to ducks or chickens. Okay, okay, I realize that this isn't the most practical thing for those of you without backyard livestock/ponds. But I did think it might be a fun thing to do on a picnic at a park. Just save those strawberry tops and broccoli stems and feed them to the ducks instead of the standard bread.

3. Make stock or soup. Many people (and by people I mean really frugal people) keep a bucket or Ziploc bag in the freezer with their ends. When they get enough, they cover them with water and boil until you can taste a vegetable/meat and it tastes like water and you can taste the stock and it tastes like vegetables/meat, meaning that all the goodness of the vegetables/meat has been transferred to the stock.

4. Use the water you've boiled vegetables in to water your plants. Or as the base for a stock instead of plain water. Adler actually stores her veggie waters in the fridge awaiting further use. I don't know if I'm that dedicated, but in the summer, I often use that water for my patio plants.

5. Use them in something else. I admit that this doesn't work for all types of ends. There's only so much you can do with onion skins for example. But many ends can be re-purposed. I admit that a lot of this is theory to me as I've never tried these things. However, I trust that giving a few a try would get our grandparents/great-grandparents smiling in their graves. Stems from herbs you used to garnish last night's meal can be used in a soup or casserole tonight. Animal (or sometimes vegetable) skins can be fried up (okay, gross, but that totally works for some people). Fat from stock can be used to saute your vegetables. Parmesan rinds can be used to flavor soup. Stale bread can be used to make croutons, bread crumbs, bread pudding, or any of a number of other bread based things. You get the idea. I admit that if you did this with everything, it could get a little exhausting. Or maybe not. Maybe if we learned to do this sort of cooking and did this with everything, we'd only have to go to the store once a month. And we'd always have something waiting for dinner.

The other day for lunch I had a bunch of broccoli stalks saved. I'd used the tree-like heads for various meals. The stalks had kept surprisingly well. One batch was about 2 weeks old and no different in firmness than the fresh bunch. So I decided to give my ends a whirl. I made them into matchsticks and roasted them. They were delicious and gave me a lunch side dish for 2 days. Then I chopped the leftover leaves and bits I'd peeled off and fed them to our ducks. I have to say I felt pretty good about it all.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Preparing Vegetables for Quick Use All Week Long

Yesterday I did a book review for Tamar Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal.

One of the chapters is titled, "Striding Ahead" and in it she describes how she roasts a whole booty load of vegetables in one afternoon and then uses those vegetables for the rest of the week. As with a couple of Adler's suggestions, I was a bit skeptical. I wasn't so sure how I'd feel about Monday's roasted vegetables come Friday. Furthermore, Adler goes all out, roasting several pans of various seasonal vegetables, sauteeing the greens from the tops of any vegetables containing greens (turnips, beets, etc.), and then saving the "ends" (peels, skins, cores, etc.) to make vegetable stock or a vegetable puree at the end. She claims that these roasted veggies can then be used in unconventional salads or as toppings for sandwiches or mixed into rice or cooked into omlettes or added to broth and pureed into soup. A little preparation should make a whole week worth of 15 minutes meals.

I went at it a little less enthusiastically. I had a fading head of cauliflower and a partial head of broccoli and a morning of cleaning. I figured I could clean and roast at the same time. And I did.

How to Roast a Vegetable:
-Cut them into even-ish pieces
-Coat them in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
-Lay them in a single layer on a roasting pan/cookie sheet (preferably with some space between each vegetable).
-Roast at 400-425 degrees, flipping them over when the bottoms are browned and then roasting till the other side is browned.

I admit that I like to get my roasted vegetables nice and roasty. I like the broccoli to be very dark brown at the edges and the tree tops. I like my cauliflower with some distinct color. So, don't fear the brown. It is your friend.

Let me take a moment here to make a Vegetable Lover's Deep Dark Confession. I don't really like broccoli. I like cauliflower in most forms--raw, boiled, steamed, or roasted. But broccoli I have never really loved. However, when I got married, broccoli was one of the very few vegetables Kip enjoyed and so all these years I have prepared and eaten it too. However, I must have it mixed into things--rice or a casserole or a soup. Just plain broccoli staring at me from my plate, it almost makes me gag to eat it. Yes, I said it. Me. The woman who has spent the last year and a half giving jabs to my husband and son for their extreme pickiness, I nearly gag on plain steamed broccoli with or without butter and salt.

That said, I will admit that this year I discovered roasted broccoli. And that--that I could eat--straight off the pan in a great big pile. Oh yes, I could. I ate a whole bunch of it the day I roasted that partial head of it. I knew that would be pretty good. But then I took a small leap of faith and I put the rest in the refrigerator to await my lunch and snack needs for the week. I really wasn't so sure I'd be loving my cold roasted vegetables, but Adler promised they would be delicious turned into salads or egg dishes or whatever else my imagination could conjure. I'm a big fan of leaps of faith because they often take me somewhere wonderful. This was no exception. Boy howdy were they ever good. I added a bit of mayo and sometimes a squeeze of lemon to make them into the topping for open-faced sandwiches. I made them hot and cold (meaning sometimes I nuked the roasted vegetables before adding to my sandwiches and sometimes I didn't). Both were incredibly good--intensely flavorful still from the roasting, and there and waiting for me every day when I got home from errands or whatever tired, grumpy, and really hungry. I ate them plain out of the jars. If I'd had more, I could have made all kinds of other things. For just little old me, those nearly two heads of vegetable lasted only 4 days. Not bad. Not bad at all. I began to see how preparing vegetables ahead could really bring forth a lot of good, cheap, super fast meals. I also saw how much more likely I was to actually eat a vegetable that had been pre-prepared. There was no way I would have eaten that broccoli had it remained as it was just sitting there in the crisper drawer.

 Adler stores her roasted vegetables in glass mason jars so that she can tell what she has at a glance--separate jars for each vegetable so they keep their own flavors. It's a pretty good idea when you're "striding ahead" because otherwise you may well wind up with a lot of sketchy science fair projects. Since one of the main ideas of pre-prepared vegetables is to not waste that lovely lump of cauliflower, it's important to put them in your fridge in a way that they won't be forgotten after all. If you don't have glass containers, I recommend labeling them. I'm a pretty good labeler. And a pretty good rememberer. And a pretty good go-through-the-fridge-once-a-week-and-see-what's-in-there-er. But if you're not, use some glass (or even clear plastic) containers. I used old glass peanut butter jars and they worked great (as would old jam jars or artichoke jars or applesauce jars or just whatever). So you get to recycle and actually see what's in your refrigerator. Win win.

Which was the outcome of my striding ahead experiment. I didn't waste my vegetables. They made a week of delicious, really quick lunches. And it made me feel more confident about buying a large amount of fresh vegetables on sale and putting them to good use. 


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