Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vanilla Extract Update

Here is the update I promised on my Homemade Vanilla Extract. It has come along quite nicely in only two months, don't you think?

Stay tuned for another progress report in a couple more months. . .

Grilled Ham & Cheese with Pineapple

The next time you grill a ham and cheese sandwich, try adding a couple slices of pineapple. Tastes great!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Strawberry Congealed Salad

While organizing my Mother's recipes last week, I realized a need for a catagory which does not exist in my own recipe files. And that is, "Congealed Salad". Thinking about it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling in my heart. I can just see my Mother and her friends at their church luncheons and bridge club meetings eating congealed salads and aspics on beautiful china with real silverware.

Strawberry Congealed Salad
1 1/4 cups coarsley crushed pretzels
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

Mix together; press into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool.

8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. Cool Whip
1/3 cup powdered sugar

Whip together and spread over cooled pretzel crust.

2 cups water
6 oz. package strawberry Jello
16 oz. strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained

Boil water; add Jello, then fruit. Allow to thicken. Spoon over top of crust and cheese layers.

Chill until firm.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Versatile Blogger Award

Susi at Susi's Kochen Und Backen Adventures presented me with The Versatile Blogger award. Yay!! I got an award! Thanks a bunch, Susi. I really enjoy your blog.

The guidelines for accepting this award are...
Thank the person who gave it you
Tell 7 things about yourself
Pass the award on to 15 bloggers, whom you have recently discovered, and think are fantastic

OK--so here are some things about me:
  • I don't have a stand mixer or a food processer -- I have a very simple kitchen.
  • I am nice to Service Workers and I'm a good tipper.
  • I'm not a distracted driver and I let others cut in front of me.
  • I always have 2 books going, one in the house and an audio book in the car.
  • I smile and laugh a lot and find humor in everyday situations.
  • I am very observant.
  • I think the word "foodie" is dumb.
  • I like quiet.
And without further ado, I pass this prestigious award along to:
I hope you will enjoy these blogs as much as I do.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rattlesnake Beans

I brought these green beans home from Alabama. Although I don't recall ever seeing these beans, my Mother tells me that her parents used to grow them. I suppose that puts them into the catagory of "heirloom" beans, although I'm not sure exactly what that means.

These beans are not the slender variety of green beans found in the produce department of your grocery store (although I like those very much). These beans are hefty. These beans are "string beans" and "snap beans" because that is exactly what is required of them. They have thick strings running down both sides of the beans which must be removed. Then they are snapped into manageable sized pieces.

If you have ever been served green beans which have not been stringed, you know how unpleasant that can be. So please take your time and be thorough when removing the strings from the beans. Also know that these beans take a little longer to cook than those aformentioned supermarket green beans.

Once the beans are cooked, the purple mottling disappears and they look like any other hot climate summer string bean. I prepared my beans very simply, with a bit of leftover ham, sweet Vidalia onion, and new potatoes.

Summer Green Beans with New Potatoes
2 lbs. green beans
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 cup diced ham
10 - 12 new potatoes
Salt and Pepper

Combine approximately 4 cups water, the ham, and the chopped onion in a large pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat, then simmer while preparing the beans and potatoes. Add stringed. snapped and rinsed green beans. Cook for about 30 minutes. Scrub potatoes with a vegetable brush and cut a strip around the middle with a vegetable peeler. Add to the pot along with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until the potatoes and beans are tender, checking and adding more water if needed. Serve with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Old Recipes = Treasure

Something I have wanted to do for a long time is look through, and help organize my Mother's recipes. She has thousands of them from her many years of cooking. On this trip, it finally happened. My brother and I went to an office store, where we purchased a portable file plus folders to catagorize Mother's recipes.

Mother showed me 2 boxes of recipes packed away in her garage. And when I say box I don't mean a cute little recipe box. Not even a shoe box. These were big boxes. I only made it through one of them, which had recipes dating back to the 1950's.

The whole family became involved in this project and that was fun. The recipes brought back many memories and a lot of remember whens.

I came home with a thick folder full of recipes. Many of the recipes are in Mother's handwriting and they are written on all kinds of things--scraps of paper, the back of a letter, envelopes, napkins, counter checks, billing statements, there is even one written on the back of an invitation to my brother's 6th birthday party. There are also recipes written by my aunts, great-aunts, grandmothers, and even my great-grandmother. Also included are some newspaper and magazine clippings of considerable age.

I will be preparing and blogging about some of these recipes. They will start appearing here, interspersed with my usual cooking. I have always had a love for old recipes.

Home Again

I got home last night from a nice family visit to Alabama. My brother, his wife, and daughter, from Houston were also there. In addition to our parents, we saw aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. We ate a lot of delicious food.

Although it was quite wonderful to see everyone, I am delighted to be home. My husband didn't get to go because of work and I missed him. I didn't sleep well while I was gone, and our bed was just heavenly last night. I slept late this morning and have rested a lot throughout the day, eating lightly and drinking lots of water.

Pictured above are some peaches and wild plums from a Farmers' Market in Opelika, Alabama. When I told my Mother those little plums reminded me of all the ones I picked and ate when I was a girl, she told me they don't have them any longer, nor do they have blackberries. When I asked why not, she said it is because "they" spray poison along the roadways. (I know the chemical companies would have preferred she use the word, "herbicide".)

It seems that people want everything to be pretty. Wild vines, brambles, and craggy little wild trees are not desirable, despite the fact that they offer foods with extraordinary taste and smell, which also happen to be FREE.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Goin' to Alabama

I've been busy for a couple of days preparing for a vacation to Alabama to visit my family. And I thought it was hot here in the mountains!

I will be away for a few days, but I should come back with some delicious recipes and stories. My Mother is an incredible cook.

See you next week.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Rolls

When it is hot, like now, I enjoy making summer rolls. Not exactly a salad and not really a sandwich, with a package of rice paper wrappers, you can turn anything into hand food.

Available in the Asian section of your grocery store.

The wrappers are thin and brittle with an embossed pattern. To use, dip for a few seconds in warm water, the pattern disappears and they become very pliable. Place onto a moistened kitchen towel, add desired fillings, then roll like a burrito. Once you work with one or two of them, you will have a feel for how easy and forgiving they are.

Possibilites are endless as far as fillings go. Here is the batch I made today.

Summer Rolls
Rice paper wrappers, dipped into warm water until pliable
Zucchini, sliced lengthwise, sauteed in a little olive oil
Red bell pepper strips
Thinly sliced onion
Baby spinach leaves
Fresh mint, coarsely chopped
Alfafa sprouts
Almonds, sliced and toasted

Spread some hummus on each roll, then build layers as desired. Roll up.

Dipping Sauce
Juice of 1 lime
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. grated ginger
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together. This is the amount I used for the two of us.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cherry Blue Chicken Salad

We are experiencing a heat wave this weekend, which is unusual this early in the season, here in the mountains. Heck, it's not technically even summer yet. Because we don't have air conditioning in our home, we have all the windows wide open, and ceiling fans whirring away in every room.

I wouldn't even consider baking anything! I don't even want to use the stovetop when it is this hot. In fact, I don't want anything hot to eat. I like getting adventurous with salads and sandwiches in the summer. Yes, and grilling.

But don't get me wrong. . .I love summer! It is by far my favorite season. I like the fresh air from having the windows open, love hearing the birds singing, the neighbors' children playing, the smell of their barbecues. I like the pastel hues of spring, but I really adore the brilliant colors of summer. Not to mention the summer fruits and vegetables.

Cherry Blue Chicken Salad
4 - 5 cups shredded chicken (I used a deli rotisserie chicken)
About 1 lb. fresh cherries, pitted and halved
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 small Vidalia onion, minced
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
4 oz. blue cheese, diced

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar or honey
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Mix the dressing first, and chill while preparing the rest of the salad. Toss all the salad ingredients together then fold in the dressing. Chill the salad for an hour or two, if you can, for the best flavor. Even better the next day.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Easy Faux Cherry Strudel

Last summer, I made Cherry Strudel using phyllo dough. While I enjoyed making them then, I was not in the mood to priss around with the fragile phyllo now. Yet I had some fresh, beautiful cherries and wanted to make some little pies. I was day dreaming about dough/pastry options--did I want a biscuity crust like my aunts back in Alabama used for those wonderful fried pies? Or I could go with a more standard pie crust. Or puff pastry. As these thoughts were rolling around inside my head, I remembered I still had some egg roll wrappers in the fridge. Why not? These little strudels turned out surprisingly delicious.

The most time consuming part of making them is pitting the cherries. But I always fall into a sort of reverie while I'm doing it, thinking of bygone summers, most especially of sitting up in the cherry tree at my uncle's house, in Ohio, eating my fill of ripe, juicy cherries, and of all the things going on with my five male cousins, on the ground, from my vantage point in the tree.

Easy Faux Cherry Strudel
Approx. 1 pound fresh cherries, minus the ones I ate while pitting, halved
2 Tbsp. brown sugar, adjust to your taste and the sweetness of the cherries
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
10 - 12 egg roll wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten
Turbinado sugar
Powdered sugar for serving, if desired

Mix together the pitted and halved cherries, the sugar, and the cornstarch. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, to macerate.

Put a mound of cherries onto the center of an egg roll wrapper and roll up into a little envelope. Place seam down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake in preheated 375 oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove to a baking rack to cool.

Cherry Club Sandwich

This is the official sandwich of my club. No, wait, my club doesn't have an official sandwich. Oh, and I don't have a club. Never mind. I'm pretty sure I've never made a club sandwich before, in fact, I don't know that I have ever even eaten one. But for whatever reason (the wind?) I decided that's what I was going to make.

I am also thinking about, and eating, cherries a lot. I still had a couple of jars of preserved Ranier cherries from last summer, so incorporated them into my sandwiches. If you are not familiar with the pretty, sweet, golden Rainier cherry, keep your eyes peeled and treat yourself if you see them. They are so delicious. Now back to the sandwich. . .

Cherry Club Sandwich
For each sandwich, layer, from bottom up:
1 slice toasted and buttered whole wheat bread
Few slices of smoked turkey
Few slices of thinly sliced Vidalia onion
Lettuce (the usual amount)
1 slice toasted and buttered whole wheat bread
Generous slather of cherry preserves
Crispy bacon
Few slices provolone cheese
1 slice toasted and buttered whole wheat bread

Place a toothpick into all four sides of the sandwich, then slice diagonally to form triangles. Plate with the pointed edge up.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Eggplant Parmigiana

Eggplant Parmigiana is one of my favorite things to eat. I just love it! If I spot it on a restaurant menu, I inevitably order it--can't resist. But I will say I have been disappointed. Not every version lives up to my dreams.
Eggplant Parmigiana, or Eggplant Parmesan if you prefer, makes a very hearty vegetarian meal when served with salad and garlic toast. I have made this dish many, many times and this is the way I do it.

Eggplant Parmigiana
Adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
2 medium eggplants, unpeeled, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
1 egg beaten with some milk
Dried bread crumbs
Olive oil
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced
6 oz. tomato paste
Water or wine
1 -2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp. each oregano, basil, black or red pepper
Salt to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Dip washed and sliced eggplant, first into flour, then egg mixture, then into the bread crumbs until they are well coated. Saute the eggplant slices in a little olive oil, a few at a time, until they nicely browned on each side. Tend them carefully as they will burn easily, and add oil as needed. When they are crisp and brown, arrange them in a baking dish and top with a slice or two of mozzarella cheese.
Make a tomato sauce by thinning out the tomato paste with some water or wine. Stir in the garlic and spices. Spread a couple tablespoons of the sauce over the eggplant slices. And finally, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over it all.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes and serve piping hot.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Have You Ever Sexed an Eggplant?

Check the bottom of the eggplant. The male has a round and flat indentation. The female's is deeper and more oval. The female eggplant tends to have more seeds and therefore may be slightly more bitter.

However, the real key is freshness. Choose eggplants that are firm and shiny and don't store them for very long.