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Watermelon-mint cooler

7 Jul

This just in: here in the upper Midwest, summer has finally decided to come, and summer equals sticky. This I tell you, brother: you can’t have one without the other. Something else you can’t not have in the summer, no matter where your summer is? Watermelon. Seedless watermelon has dropped in price recently, and with a little watermelon eater around here, I snapped those babies up…and then paid the consequences, when we went on a trip to Wisconsin over the Fourth of July (happy birthday, America!) and the watermelon wedges got a little soggy-sogged. Not the crisp texture I’m looking for, but when a girl has soggy, sweet watermelon, she makes watermelon-ade. Or something like that, but that doesn’t sound as good.

I’m discovering more ways to use watermelon lately–a watermelon-mint-feta salad has been on my list since we had it on a cruise two years ago, and it finds itself in smoothies and all sorts of drinks. This is a delicious way to cool down when you decided not to turn on your air conditioning, since it was a cool evening and morning, and then the day turned nice and roasty later on. I don’t know who would do such a thing, but if you meet that kind of person, recommend this to them. It’s like swimming in a cool pool of icy-sweet deliciousness, but you don’t have to put on sunscreen or towel off to do it. Bonus.

If you have little ones outside in the heat all day long and you’re trying to keep them hydrated, this is a good way to do it; watermelon is what, about 99.99% water, and yes, that counts toward your daily intake.

****************************

Watermelon-Mint Cooler

Note: Agave nectar is a syrup made from the blue agave plant, found in Mexico and other dry, desert areas. It is sweeter than either honey or sugar. It’s become more popular and widely used in recent years because of its low glycemic load, which means that it won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as other sweeteners do. For that reason, it’s a good choice for diabetics and others who need to watch spikes in blood glucose. Teaspoon for teaspoon, however, it has the same amount of calories as other sweeteners. In my area, I’ve seen it at Trader Joe’s and Costco (in a two-pack for the latter). I used the TJ’s variety in this recipe.

 Makes 2 large glasses full. 

Ingredients:

4-5 cups watermelon, in hunks
Juice of 1/2 a lime
6 ice cubes
6 large, fresh mint leaves, torn in half
1 squeeze of agave nectar*
pinch of salt

Put everything but the agave and mint in a blender. Blend on high (I use a K-Tec blender, of the “Will it blend?” YouTube fame, and I blended at 3 for 15 seconds, then 5 for 10). Taste. Add agave to taste (I used a small squeeze–agave is sweeter than sugar). Add salt to taste.

Pour into two cheap-o plastic cups, because you’re frugal like that and weren’t planning on taking any pictures of this, don’t garnish with mint (for the same reason), sit on your classy, classy deck, and drink. Aaaahhhh. You’re ten to fifteen degrees cooler suddenly.

*Of course you can substitute sugar, honey, or another sweetener (or none, even better!) of your choice.

In other, unrelated news, it is lily time around here! This makes me very happy. Aren’t they beautiful?

A little something

9 Jul

Dear friends,

Let’s be honest, shall be? Both because we can and because we should. And because I like you, and at least one of you likes me. Okay, just one. And I’ll take that.

The truth is, it hasn’t been you. It’s been me. No, really. It may be July, but outside my kitchen window, my new hostas are being splattered with rain. Likewise, the last few months have been pretty rain-splattered for me, if I may speak in symbols (and I may, since I am an editor-writer and did major in English; altogether, I have license). You see, I had a loss in April. A very, very big, painful loss, which I won’t ever be able to describe and don’t want to. To make the story short, I have been a grieving mother. I wish I could tell you more, because I’m sure some of you have suffered equally. But I hope that you’ll understand that it’s very hard, even now, to talk about, to think about, to still be experiencing. And going into depth, well, might make me sort of sink (did you like that analogy, too? Get it? Depth–sinking–like in a pool).

Anyway, I thought and thought and thought about whether to tell you, not to tell you, suddenly appear in the dark of night with some new, passionate post about how I’ve gone to pick strawberries at a you-pick farm three times in the last three weeks and have made jam for the first time, and isn’t summer glorious and all that, and take a look at my first garden, my broccoli is enormous. But I felt like this absence…I felt like I should at least say something. I’m also trying to see at least one positive angle look on this mother’s cross of a challenge, which is that sometime, someone will read this very post and be in similar pain and ask for help. And I’m hoping that at that time, I will be able to help.

But enough about that. What I can also say is that I’ve returned, I’m hoping, for good. There’s a lot of food to be talked about, so we will. After all, this is a site about food! And loving it. Doesn’t salt balance chocolate and honey and lime love each other? So I suppose we must have some bitter and some sweet, even on a food blog. But let’s stick mostly to sweet, okay? Deal.

And now. Something simple, not even a recipe, but a discovery. Some background: fruit and chocolate are good friends. We know it from the depths of our chocolate-covered-strawberry hearts, from the shores of fondue pools to the banks of rasperry hot chocolate (my way of putting in some patriotic words in place of posting for the Fourth). And yet…Nutella…and cherries? Yes, of course! And one day, in a fit of hunger and a greedy abundance of cherries (see thrice-picking of strawberries, above), I thought, “Need whole grains. Toast. Check. Need protein…Nutella…not really, but close enough. Need…cherries? Yes, cherries!” And there you have it, my entire revelation, which, if you were here, you’d know about in five seconds instead of reading it in thirty. But it needed a story; I couldn’t very well say, “Hey, you should put Nutella on your whole-wheat toast and then put sliced cherries on top. And eat it.” On the other hand, I just did.

The case, evidence as dark as ever.

The case, evidence as dark as ever.

The judgment. It was a righteous judgment. I continued to judge.

The judgment. It was a righteous judgment. I continued to judge.

-Erin

Another Fast Feast: Tomato Soup Provence

6 Jan
Topped with a bit of leftover summer herbs left dwindling...

Topped with a bit of leftover summer herbs left dwindling in a pot...

Hm, what can I tell you about this? Do you hate when you don’t know how to start a post and this prevents you from posting for, oh, a few weeks? Me too. All the time. Nevertheless, the job must be done, and I’m the one to do it, right? Right.

First, I love tomato soup, in so many forms. In fact, this is probably but one of at least a half-dozen tomato soups that I’ve made in my day (which is not a very long day, but still). The difference between this and other tomato soups is the flavor, oh, the flavor.

Have you ever used Herbes de Provence? It  is a blend of herbs originally from the southern part of France; which, I’ve read, does really have the aroma of some of the flavors in this blend. The blend commonly includes lavender, rosemary, bay leaf, basil, thyme, and in my blend, fennel. All this comes together in a very perfume-y mix, very flowery. Frankly, I could put it in my dresser drawers and be happy. But we’re putting it in soup today, where it lends a flavor that is just beautiful. Sorry to be a cliche food writer, but it’s true. And the aromas from the bubbling pot–you’ll want friends over just for that!

Besides the flavor, the second wonderful thing about this soup is its simplicity. As a maker of many, many soups, some of which have many, many ingredients, this is a great deviation from my usual habits. I often craft soups to be all-in-one meals, which necessitates a little thinking along the lines of including something from each food group and incorporating the major macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates). This soup departs from my habit, since it doesn’t have a sturdy protein backing; but America, most of us get enough protein in our diet that we could all be bodybuilders; too much, in fact. So consider this a healthy break! If you’re a vegetarian, of course, be sure to include a lean source of protein on the side or elsewhere in your day.

But back to simplicity. Once you’ve cut up your onions and garlic, you can have this soup on the table in twenty minutes, and since soups are easy to double, you might find yourself with several meals’ worth of food–where else do you get such a return on your investment? (And this is why I have an extra freezer.) Pick up some nice, crusty, whole-grain bread to serve on the side, and you’re set. I know you’ll be tempted to skip the goat cheese–it’s not in every fridge–but don’t. It is a perfect complement. (Hint: it’s most economical at Costco. Just find a friend to share it with, or plan on eating a lot of chevre.) Also fantastic–most of these items are things you’ve already got in your pantry or fridge! Aren’t I good to you?

As usual, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you! A very happy new year to you and yours. May this be the start of a healthy, delicious 365 days.

-Erin

Provence Tomato Soup

This recipe calls for two to three tablespoons Herbes de Provence; no, this is not a typo! The tomatoes can absorb a lot of flavor. Taste first with two tablespoons; adjust as needed.

Note: I topped mine with some stray herbs (oregano) still struggling in a pot on the kitchen table, but that was silly of me. Consider the green bits in the picture simply a clever color complement for photography.

From “raw” to eating: 20 min., appx.

Makes: a big pot full, enough for 8-10 servings+

Olive oil, for sauteeing
1 large onion (I used yellow because they’re cheapest and I’m like that), medium dice
2 large cloves garlic, finely diced
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 T Herbes de Provence
1/2 C white grape juice (my subsitute for white wine)
4 14-oz cans (I think that’s the size they are; the “regular” size, in other words) diced tomatoes
2 quarts chicken broth, preferably homemade, low-sodium (but cheat if you must…don’t say I didn’t warn you, though!)

cracked pepper & salt, to taste
chevre (soft goat cheese), for plopping onto the top of each bowl

In a stock pot or your favorite large soup pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat; it should be enough to film the bottom of the pot. When the oil is hot (this will depend on your stove; it’s about two minutes for me), toss in the onion and garlic. Turn the heat down to medium-high. Sprinkle salt in; this will help the onions to “sweat” out their liquid. Saute garlic-onion mixture until nearly translucent, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomato paste and Herbes de Provence, and grape juice; stir to incorporate. Add the tomatoes (including the liquid) and the broth. Cover and bring to a boil.

Taste and adjust for seasoning; to serve, ladle into bowls, top with a small scoop of chevre (it melts–so good!), and serve a piece of toasted whole-grain bread on the side.

Leftovers can be stored, refrigerated, for up to two weeks, or frozen, for two or three months. If they last that long!

My Mighty Muffaletta

17 Sep
It makes a thick, juicy, tasty meal. Don't worry, somehow it ends up fitting in your (my) mouth.

It makes a thick, juicy, tasty meal. Don't worry; somehow it ends up fitting in your (my) mouth.

If, like me, you’re clinging to the summer glory days of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and the like, this recipe is a shout-out to you. I know I should probably be featuring pumpkin-themed recipes at this point and talking about the chill in the air and how the wind brings the scent of cinnamon and rising dough wafting from my neighbor’s window, but seriously, it’s only September. And besides that, I don’t even know if my neighbors have things to waft my way, besides fertilizer. I don’t know my neighbors, actually. (Yet. Yet, I said!) Additionally, the wind poses a few problems for people like me who love to cycle, and people like me who like to not be cold in the winter.

Now that I’ve talked about why this is a summer recipe, let’s get on with it. Like the panzanella I featured a while back, this one also came from my days at an upscale, university café. In the late morning, an aluminum pan would come to the café filled with roasted vegetables. To that we would add sautéed mushrooms and a fresh slice of tomato. This comprised the sandwich guts. It was served on a crusty ciabbatta (I believe; J-Dawg, you can correct me), which we slathered in a rosemary-spiked mayo.

At least a few of us, upon leaving that café, had a strong aversion to mayo; it was the life-blood of that place. The vegetables are still roasted, but the “spread” is a bit of melted feta. I also roasted the tomatoes, instead of using fresh, whole slices. I love the whole vegetables appearance of this sandwich—you know exactly what you’re eating, and the tomatoes actually serve to bind it together.

Traditional muffalettas use an olive salad and a heap ‘o meat and cheese, but there are plenty of sub sandwiches out there already. I wanted this to showcase the fresh vegetables, the heat to draw out their flavor and marry with leeks and fresh, pungent rosemary. I think you’ll like the results. Let me know what you think.

Note: this can be made ahead of time, and is ready for vegan-izing.

My Mighty Muffaletta

From “raw” to eating: 30 min., appx.

Makes: a pile, 4 servings

Inside:
1 lb. tomatoes, sliced into rounds or left whole if using cherry tomatoes (I used heirloom, Big Boy, etc. from the garden)
½ lb. zucchini, cut on the bias into planks
1-2 bell peppers, each cut in half or thirds (I used purple, green, and chocolate, also from the garden)
1 bulb fennel, sliced on the bias into ¼” rounds
2 T olive oil
1 large clove garlic, slivered
leaves from ½ twig rosemary, chopped finely
kosher salt and freshly-cracked pepper, to taste

2” feta cheese (if in block form) or 3-4 T

4-6 ciabatta rolls (I get mine at Costco)

Preheat oven to 450 F. Combine vegetables in a glass baking dish, sprinkle leeks and garlic over top, and toss with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Roast in oven for appx. 20-25 min.

While the vegetables roast, slice ciabatta rolls in half horizontally. Turn a pan on medium heat. When it’s heated up, toss in feta. Turn the heat down to low; the residual heat from the pan will melt the feta nicely. Spread 1 T (or however much you like; the Midwestern Meateater, who is also lactose-intolerant, is ironically always adding more cheese…I suspect because of its meat-like qualities).

When the vegetables have roasted, remove from oven and top each of the ciabatta rolls with vegetables, making sure that each sandwich gets some of each vegetable. You’re not going for a zucchini sandwich here.

Optional: For the meat-eaters, include two pieces cooked (not to crispy) turkey bacon on their muffalettas. The Midwestern Meateater has a metabolism to die for, so I’m always trying to bump up the calories for him. I always do it in a healthful way, though—so turkey bacon it was this time. It adds a few calories without sacrificing nutritional value. Said the Midwestern Meateater about this sandwich, which was meant to be filled primarily with vegetables, “Yeah,the bacon really makes it.” Well, I tried.

Not mine: Tangy fresh tomato soup

5 Sep
Mmm, mmm good. Consendensed what?! Campbell's ain't got nothin' on this.

Mmm, mmm good. Condensed what?! Campbell's couldn't do it if they tried. Well, maybe. But this is better anyway.

I realize that not only are not all good recipes created by me, but that sometimes I actually use a recipe–someone else’s, to boot! That’s where this one came from. I have been multiply blessed by heaps and pounds and ginormous quantities of other people’s home-grown produce; mostly in my own generous family. Heaps of yellow cherry tomatoes, which the people who grew and sold the plants to my dad said tasted “like candy.” Personally, I don’t think tomatoes taste like candy, because I had a Lindt chocolate-orange square earlier and there was definitely a difference. But yes, they are sweet.

In addition to the controversial yellow cherry tomatoes, I’ve gotten six-pound zucchini (I’m estimating on the low side here), big, thick, heavy, sandwich-slice tomatoes, yellow and red heirloom in all sizes and with a variety of kinda fun bubbles marking them as heirloom, and small red cherry tomatoes. Unfortunately, that bounty comes with a price.

I have been a saver of things since who knows when. Money (how else were we able to get a house after less than a year of marriage?), new clothes (always waiting for a “special” occasion, thus going un-worn), even leftovers (the Midwestern Meateater is careful about what he eats, in case I’m using it for later). Hence, I “save” the produce for a “special” occasion. However. Special occasions involving leeks, mint, rosemary, thyme, dill, cilantro, sweet corn, mounds of tomatoes, new potatoes, peaches, and cantaloupe in one meal, well, they don’t come often. And if they do, I don’t have either the time or stomach for them.

So, tomatoes got given to me, tomatoes got saved by me, and then tomatoes got…away from me. Squishy. But now…oh, now I have a tasty soup, courtesy of Martha. Well, no. Courtesy of Martha’s huge company. (I need that caveat, because on a personal level, I am not a fan of Martha’s…but her decision-makers have produced a mighty many things that I like.)

This soup is written to be eaten chilled, which I’m sure would be great on a hot summer evening or afternoon. However, our “summer” days happened to get a cue from Labor Day that summer was apparently over, because the day I made this, it was cold and rainy. Thus, a hot soup.

Tangy and sweet, this soup is incredibly pungent. The flavors are like summer–bold, intense, and bright. It would warm you in the winter, too.

Nutritional low-down

Everything in here is good for you. Everything. It’s like V8 that tastes good and doesn’t smell bad. Drink it. Eat it. Freeze it. I suspect it would be a great base for another soup, and a creamy version is very tempting.

The recipe

Find the recipe here, since I’m sure there’s a reason I’m not supposed to post it…like that Omnimedia didn’t exactly give me permission.

What’s in it? I can tell you that:

  • tomatoes
  • fresh, grated ginger
  • fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • sugar
  • love.

I added a bit more sugar than called for to cut the acidity, but I also used quite a bit of yellow cherry tomatoes, which are more acidic than their red counterparts. If you prefer sweet versus tangy, I suggest using only red tomatoes, particularly varieties like Roma, which are low-acid. The recipe calls for serving with a yogurt-lime dollop, but that will also increase ye olde tang.

My favorite part: if you plan to serve it cold, all it involves is a little chopping and a blender. That’s it. Yes, really.

I served it with hot garlicky lentils and toasted, crusty bread–the Midwestern Meateater would think he needed something else if I didn’t include a slab of protein. Very good all around.

Heirloom tomatoes with basil and pink salt…because summer is not over yet

25 Aug
With the tomatoes stacked alternately, I nearly have my own Olympic games here.

With the tomatoes stacked alternately, I nearly have my own Olympic games here.

I know summer is rumoured to be on its way out, but you know what? We all say this every year, but I especially mean it this time—it has gone ridiculously, criminally fast. True, I have gotten one really good, painful sunburn, but I am nearly transparent and could get that in November, too. I feel like I have hardly experienced summer and I, for one, am not about to let it go without a fight. The good news is that the garden appears to agree with me. This is the first in what might end up being a slew of ideas using the red, pink, yellow, and green tomatoes, zucchini, basil, oregano, sage, chives, parsley, cilantro, bell peppers, sweet peppers, hot peppers…

I love this particular recipe because it does not get any simpler than this—the food naturally shines through just as it was meant to be, completely unfettered by anything I could’ve done to it. The licorice-lemon-pepper notes of basil complement (instead of mask or block) the flavor of vine-ripened, sun-grown tomatoes. These ones were fresh from the garden—you know, the ones that are so ripe that the seeds pop out with any pressure? Nearly there. The pink Hawaiian sea salt is surprising and crunchy, and definitely with a taste unlike grocery shelf salt. This was my first experiment with gourmet salt. If you’re shy about using large-grain salt or don’t happen to have any around (I wouldn’t either if I didn’t have family in Texas, where I found the salt), sprinkle with kosher or table salt.

These ingredients need no help with beautification, so the presentation is filled with just about as much color as the Olympic opening ceremonies. This would be great for company, as a last-minute side to grilled dishes, or as a simple substitute for green salad. We made a Sunday breakfast out of it, accompanying it with whole wheat popovers, sunny-side-up eggs, and thick banana-orange-soy drinks.

Heirloom tomatoes with basil
and pink salt

From “raw” to eating: less than five minutes (plus time to chill)

Makes: a platter, 4 servings

Inside:
1 large red heirloom tomato
1 large yellow heirloom tomato
handful fresh basil, including flowers (optional) washed and dried
pinch of pink salt or other gourmet, large-grain salt (I used pink Hawaiian sea salt, purchased in person here and also available here or here)

Slice tomatoes into thick rounds. Arrange tomatoes in alternating colors (red, yellow). Make a chiffonade of the basil (chiffonade is French for “ribbon”), or simply chop roughly, leaving flowers whole. Mine weren’t exactly…ribbony. They taste the same. Toss basil on top. Sprinkle with pink sea salt. Allow to rest for five minutes. Serve!

-E

Mango-mint lassi

17 Jul
Mango-mint lassi

Oh, so good, mango-mint lassi. If you're feeling hot and sticky, this is where it is.

First, let me start with an apology. I’m a little sorry not to have posted in quite a long time, but I promise I have been doing good things in the meantime, such as camping, searching for ticks, and getting ready with Midwestern Meateater to be first-time homeowners. That’s a project. While I was out, you missed something I’m actually known for bringing to share in the out-of-doors—cranberry & carrot couscous with salmon and herbs. Five minutes, and it was great. Take that on your next adventure and your friends will think you’re amazing. Maybe it’ll appear here someday.

I don’t promise to never slack again, just in case. (Someone once told me not to use the words “never” or “always,” since they have exceptions.) But I will come back, each time. Lassie and me, faithful as ever. Except that I bring food and Lassie brings a message about someone in trouble.

Hot times = cold drinks

These days around Minnesota, are hot. These are sticky, steamy, zapping, three-popsicles-a-day times. In other words, summer has finally arrived, and while I love how everything grows so well and turns an emerald shade, it becomes necessary to do a little cooling off. As someone at a fabric store recently told me, “if you have to sit in your car at a stop light for more than a few seconds, you have to turn the air conditioning on.”

On these sweaty, sweaty days, I don’t have the appetite or desire to stand over a stove or even come near an oven. When I come in from outside, I immediately want something cool, and it is nice not to eat another popsicle, especially when beautiful colors and flavors for a nice, cool drink are so easy to get.

Meet the lassi

The lassi is a traditional Indian drink, served up daily over ice at your local Indian restaurant. It can be flavored with cardamom, pistachios, rose water, or even cumin. Without googling, I cannot even begin to tell you where to find rose water. It’s frothy, smoothie-like, and best of all, chilled.

I first had a lassi at a restaurant here in the Twin Cities called Passage to India. On the menu was a “lassi,” and although I didn’t try it there, I have wanted to since. Names of dishes at ethnic restaurants like this one tend to be about as descriptive as hardware items, but I could imagine the lassi anyway. Yogurt, fruit, blended up? What’s not to like?

Nutritional low-down

The lassi is all good things: dairy, dairy, whole fruit, and sugar (well…I might have fibbed a little).

While I’m at it, a shameless plug for us all to be drinking our milk: Americans have gotten better in this area, but we’re quite bad overall. The worst group is kids and teens; this is where Pepsi and the likes are student body president and you’re not cool if you don’t like it. Or at least, it’s all too accessible, and when it’s not, a host of syrup-laden drinks flavored like “kiwi-strawberry” made by someone who’s never tasted either of those things takes the place of better beverages.

There’s an idea especially among teen girls through even through college-aged ladies that dairy will pool around your middle or other ungainly places bad things will happen; i.e. boys will not ask you out. In a nutshell, this is completely not true and can be quite devastating, in fact. There is a plethora of information out there available about osteoporosis, but let me give you this bit of information: your bones need vitamin D, calcium, and a few other things to be able to grow. And if you don’t give your bones those things early, you may have done the damage by the time you wise up. For females, the last stop on the bone train is age 30. Bones start to lose density after that. The denser the bone, the less likely to break and cause major havoc down the road; even an early death.

I talked with a professor once who was studying bone mass density among women, and used the students on campus as subjects. The results were scary—women whose long-term health was at jeopardy because of neglect.

Essentially, drink your milk! It’s so good for you.

Mango-mint lassi

From “raw” to eating: 5 minutes

Makes: 4-6 servings

I started with the classic mango lassi in mind, but when I remembered mint in the fridge just waiting to go bad, it had to join in.

Inside:
Flesh of one mango, cut into chunks
1 C milk
1 C water
½ C sugar (or less)
handful fresh mint leaves

Whizz this all in a blender on high for about 30 seconds (it’s okay if you see some green flecks from the mint). Serve over crushed ice.

Ah. So good, and good for you. Another day well-done.

-E

Serve over ice...which conveniently floats like a buoy on the surface.

Serve over ice...which will pop up, float like a buoy, and make you want to boat.