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When in doubt, make zucchini fritters

26 Jul

 

A huge zucchini sneaked up on us in our garden over the weekend (a scary event, as you can imagine). I wanted to use as much of it as I could while it was so uber-fresh, so I sought out a recipe for zucchini fritters. I adapted this one from Martha Stewart and her minions. I think it’s really adaptable; all kinds of fresh herbs (thyme! basil! oregano!) would be great in it. I think it was great because of three things: 1) very fresh zucchini 2) very fresh (farmers market) onions, and 3) salt. I also put some sour cream on the side and slathered some on the top of the fritters. Even baby girl ate some! (She also spit out the second bite, but let’s forget that.)

Anyway, if you have zucchini or summer squash taking over your life, this is a great way to use some. After all, you get fiber from the zucchini, protein from the eggs, and even calcium from the sour cream. Good deal.

From the Martha recipe, I adapted it by not measuring the amount of zucchini (of course, since I’m well-known for that habit), skipped the onion, lemon, and parsley, and added a little more salt.

Zucchini Fritters

Adapted from marthastewart.com
Makes 8-10 fritters

Ingredients

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • one medium onion, diced small
  • freshly ground pepper (to taste, or 1/4 t)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  1. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate zucchini into a medium bowl. Add the salt, onion, pepper, and eggs. Mix well to combine. Slowly add flour, stirring so no lumps form. Do not overstir.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil sizzles when you drop a small amount of zucchini mixture into the pan. Carefully drop about 2 tablespoons zucchini mixture into pan; repeat, spacing fritters a few inches apart.
  3. Cook fritters until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium. Turn fritters, and continue cooking until golden, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer fritters to a plate; set aside in a warm place. Cook remaining zucchini mixture, adding more oil to pan if necessary. Sprinkle more salt on top, and serve with sour cream on the side. Eat immediately!
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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?

Fast Monday Night Dinner

14 Dec
One bowl to clean up after dinner! What's not to love?

One bowl to clean up after dinner! What's not to love?

I don’t about all of you, but come Monday, I’m not all up for a rollicking dinner complete with accessories and baking. Especially since I’ve started an on-site contract job (if anyone’s seen “The Office,” I am Ryan—the second-class “temp”), it goes like this: get home, think of food, think I should make food, wonder when the Man is coming home, think about making food, look in my pantry, have aspirations for way more than I should at that time (who’s making homemade marshmallows before dinner?!), look in the fridge, look online for inspiration in food that other people make, repeat. Something along those lines. This process continues until I’m humbled and hungry enough to wonder if we have any leftover Halloween candy and, if we do, well, there you have it. Three Musketeers for an appetizer.

Making dinner is good for you

As nine million news reports have told you, however, these are tough times we’re in, especially in this country, and a girl (and her man) deserve to eat something decent even when they might have to shovel the driveway and contemplate why they haven’t done anything about food storage, since some of the broadcasts could leave you to believe that the apocalypse is tomorrow. In which case, it really would be unfortunate that I haven’t done anything in the way of preserving with my six bags of from-the-orchard apples besides hoard them. And on the other hand, my methods of preservation include Tupperware and freezers, so all is not lost.

The point is that even though I might be inclined to make the bad decision of finishing off the sugar cookies from last weekend while I’m hungry, this really isn’t necessary. Lately, fresh food is it when cooking, and I’m all for it. This sometimes involves a lot of prep work, as I oughta know—I probably go through four onions, a bag of carrots, and a bag of celery a week just for soup bases. It doesn’t have to, though, and yes, all those euphemisms about flavors “singing” when the food is simply prepared actually isn’t a bad idea. Though if my food does start singing, I kind of want it to singing to a rendition of “Gesu Bambino” at the moment.

This is less of a recipe and more of a pattern—my nutrition background and concern with the composition of what I put in my mouth demands that my eating and cooking style be not only tasty, but check off the necessary macro and micronutrients. Yes. I literally think, “Grain…check. Protein…check. Vegetable…check. Dairy?” Not every meal needs to have every one of those groups, since I can push and pull during the day—my lunches tend to be very vegetable- and fruit-stocked, so it’s okay if I don’t load up on that group at dinner. This meal is basically a result of my thinking—grain (soba noodles), check. Protein (fried egg), check. Vegetable (sprouts, haha—no, not just for my name), check. I fry the egg in a little olive oil to get some good fat in, especially for the Man, and dinner is done. I’m talking five-ish minute here, maybe longer if you aren’t able to cook the sprouts and noodles at the same time, for example.

Nutritional lowdown

Speaking of soba noodles. Don’t be afraid. I know. They’re Japanese. And you’ve never eaten them. And yes, they do taste kind of funny. But look here. They’re a whole grain, and even though they’re buckwheat, not whole wheat, and whole wheat is kind of a nutritional American Idol finalist of grains, buckwheat is like the girl who’s still pretty great but just didn’t get the record deal. Buckwheat is actually a seed, not a grain, and related to rhubarb. Just don’t go putting it in pie, because I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be good.

As for nutritional benefits, buckwheat (soba noodles) has a range of refuted plusses, including blood sugar regulation, an alternative to gluten (it seems like more and more people are sensitive to gluten), and something about menopause. Which I have no comment on, but apparently it’s a good thing. Buckwheat, I mean.

Brussels sprouts, well, you know about those guys. Relative to broccoli and all cruciferous vegetables, including our friends the cabbages. Yes, they taste somewhat like metal and a little bitter. Season, season, season, and cut into smaller pieces. Like their family members, they’re good for fiber, some iron (though not as bioavailable as other sources), some potassium, and other trace minerals.

Eggs. These are our friends, okay? I know there were some nasty rumors about them in the past. The 80s and 90s were not a good time for them, and I think they’d rather forget those decades. We’ve treated them wrong, we’ve put them down, and what have they done? Built us muscles, given us slow-release energy, and stuck our cookies and baked goods together, covered our fried goods and emulsified our lives. They deserve more. And they don’t ask for much. And in this case, they like to be fried in some olive oil.

Soba Noodles With Fried Egg

From “raw” to eating: 10 min., appx.

Makes: Two meal-sized servings

½ lb. soba noodles
¼ one purple onion, cut into large dices
½ lb. brussels sprouts
olive oil, for frying
four eggs
cracked pepper
salt, to taste
soy sauce, for seasoning at the table

Cook soba noodles according to package directions. Set aside.

Halve sprouts; score halves with a small ‘X.’ Set aside. Heat a grill pan—medium heat. Put a few swirls of olive oil in the pan. Toss in onion, followed by the sprouts, cut side down. Cook until sprouts are nearly golden, and ignore the fact that these vegetables have my name. It is coincidence, but a jolly one. And no, I do not eat sprouts every night just for the fun of it.

While the sprouts are cooking, fry up your eggs in batches of two at a time. Crack two of the eggs into the pan; crack some pepper and sprinkle some salt on the top. Cook two or three minutes on each side, flipping once (optional; this is the “hard yolk” way).

Add soba noodles to the pan with the sprouts. Heat through.

Divide noodles, sprouts, and eggs between two large-ish bowls. I like to put the noodles on the bottom, sprouts over that, and two eggs flopped on top.

Pass around the soy sauce and enjoy the fact that you made dinner in maybe ten minutes.

Recipe: Garlic Croutons

23 Oct

Croutons are often the bread of choice around here—if you’ve only been using Mrs. Cubbison’s and have been putting them on your salad, you’re seriously missing out. Croutons are like sparkly earrings with your jeans—they make everything so much more dressed-up and accessorized with very little effort. And yes, this is one accessory that’s completely worth it.You might want to have a seat for this one, for I am about to reveal to you one of the best-kept secrets of my kitchen. No, the culinary world. No, the universe! Once you make these, like the boys and girls in Toyland, you “can never go back again.” Seriously, kids. If I were to make a formula out of this recipe, it’d go something like this:

Cut-up old bread + garlic + olive oil + salt + baking = croutons.

Less oil is needed than you'd think.

Less oil is needed than you think.

I feel silly already just posting a recipe to me that is less of a recipe and more along the line of instructions for turning on a light, but I’ve been taken aback so many times at how much people love this simple topping that I thought I’d feature it. If I asked, I don’t think anyone would be surprised that they could make their own croutons—like other things we’ve been used to buying, it just doesn’t occur to them. Or seems difficult and time-consuming. It’s neither, especially when the bread is pre-made. (Did I just endorse using something with the prefix “pre” in it? Yes. Yes, I did. I’m feeling okay.)

One of the prime ways we like to eat croutons.

One of the prime ways we like to eat croutons.

My only cautionary note is that while you’d never eat an entire loaf of say, bakery bread by yourself, you’d be surprised how dangerously easy it is to drive on the edge of that cliff when that loaf of bread becomes croutons. They may seem small, but it only takes a handful for you to realize that you’re really not hungry any more. When you can’t figure out why, I’ll help you out: you just ate an entire loaf of bread. Possibly by yourself. Good friend that I am, however, I’ve let you know ahead of time, so all will be well. (Side note: the whole-loaf-eaten thing doesn’t phase the Midwestern Meateater, so if you’ve got such characters around, don’t be surprised how not horrified they are at this thought.)

Happy eatings!

-Erin

Garlic Croutons

If you’re feeling particularly passionate, your own homemade bread would work fine for this recipe, of course, and all the more power to you for it; homemade bread that I’ve tasted, however, is much heavier than a store-bought version, so keep in mind that this characteristic will transfer to your croutons, too.

Tip: I like to buy day-old, discounted bread for this recipe. If it’s to be found in abundance, I buy in up in droves and freeze it, using it for later. It’s extremely affordable (a euphemism for “cheap”) and makes me feel good about using something that would be thrown out. (I worked in too many bakeries. I know.) If you can’t find old bread, however, non-old bread will work just fine—the action of toasting them in the oven takes care of that.

From “raw” to eating: 10 minutes

Makes: a loaf’s worth of croutons…share. Share!

Inside:
1 loaf store-bought bakery bread, un-sliced and a few days over the hill
2 cloves garlic, bashed and minced
2-3 T olive oil
salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Slice bread into long ½” batons and then into ½” cubes. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle minced garlic around as evenly as possible. Drizzle oil oil; not much is needed. Lightly toss with hands to coat. Sprinkle with salt, to taste.

Toast in oven for ~10 minutes, checking once halfway through and rotating if necessary.

Wanted: a good broth fitting

9 Oct

Background

Seeing as I’m a garage-sale going, clearance-only-clothes-shopping, and saver of all things kind of girl, it only made sense to make my own chicken broth, too. I’d been saving chicken bones for over a month in preparation for my first great big broth making, which would turn out to be marvelous and clever of me, since the season of my at-least-twice-weekly soup-making would be coming. Crowds would cheer, my popularity would increase, and the grass on our new lawn would be just a little thicker. And the garbage would take itself in and out of the garage. My freezer would be prepared for the onslaught of winter, but most importantly, I would, for the first time, have my own chicken broth, just as the experts have recommended there is no substitute for.

A Crime Was Committed

And now comes the bad news: the sun did not shine on my broth. The clouds were out, it rained, it thundered…well actually, it was just muddy. Like my broth.

I will tell you my process, and perhaps you can tell me where I went wrong. Please tell me. I meant it. Not to be too proud of myself, but cooking has yet to be an obstacle to me–it just makes sense and usually comes out the way I picture it, or I improvise to make it into something else that seems intentional (kind of like stage acting–never making a missed line obvious). I even followed directions on this one–major step for me. Seeing that this was not my prescription, I am especially confused at the results.

How the Crime Was Committed

No recipe this time, but I thought it would be valuable even to admit my mistakes. Plus, a lot of you are brilliant cooks and will know exactly where I went wrong. And will tell me (nicely, of course, since my ego is noticeably damaged).

Pre-roasting. The backbone of the broth is here. But it broke, apparently.

Pre-roasting. The backbone of the broth is here. But it broke, apparently.

1. Roast the following at 325 F for appx. one hour:

~three lb. chicken bones (with some meat on)
three stalks celery
eight baby carrots (yeah, I know, should’ve been more, but I wasn’t quite smart enough to not know I didn’t have enough)
half of one yellow Vidalia onion, cut into large pieces and separated
six whole peppercorns

2. In a large stockpot (um, large…mine is 16 quarts, ridiculous, I know), combine roasted vegetables, chicken bones and 4 1/2 quarts water. Bring to a slow boil. Reduce to low simmer and let flavors combine for 1-2 hours. Taste and add salt if needed.

At this step, I skimmed the fat off the top. I did everything mother Donna Hay told me to in her recipe. With hope in my heart and little birds alighting on my arms (which made coordinating difficult), I dipped my spoon into the broth and prepared myself for a fame and fortune…well, in broth. It tasted like water. Chicken-y water. What the. I added salt. No dice. A little more? No. I wondered if there had been enough time to simmer. I simmered some more. Tasted. Chicken-y water. No movement in flavor at all. I panicked. I did the only kind of pardonable and put in a quart of very cheap generic chicken broth in, let it simmer to combine, and gave up. I strained the broth into containers and looked forward to a better day, when as Sting says, “a day when [chicken-y] problems never got in the way.”

Definitely not clear.

Definitely not clear.

To ladle (haha!) pain upon pain, the broth wasn’t even the clear I know I should’ve gotten. I suspect this had to do with the store-bought broth, but maybe I’m just trying to save myself at this point from more embarrassment. My other thought is that I simply over-estimated the amount of water to add. Quite possible.

So, dear readers, many of you have insight on this topic and have had glory days of broth making. Others of you have gleaned knowledge from our favorite search engines and people who know more stuff than I do, which would be just about everyone. What can you tell me about what I did wrong?

If no steps seem blatantly awful, does anyone out there have a suggested pattern I can follow to broth salvation? If I conquer the next batch, I would like to move on to a vegetable broth; however, at this point, I fear for the future of all broths made by me.

Lastly, I give this plea: “Will you still love me [for the rest of my blog]? Cause I can’t go on. I can’t go on. I can’t go on…if my broth’s like this.” Thank you, Chicago. I should get some points for using two musical references with lyrics in this post.

Grown-up Mac and Cheese: Sage and Ham Version

6 Oct
As you can see, it was well-liked.

As you can see, it was well-liked.

I grew up on the blue box macaroni and cheese (yes, you know the one), and at the time, I thought it was delightful. In fact, it was a sure sign of affluence in my mind when my friends had character macaroni—when the pasta was shaped like a Barbie or whatever. Those were fancy friends, and I probably should’ve done a better job keeping in contact with such rich people. However, you grow up, and as your body gets bigger, your mind gets stronger, and it’s great to learn! ‘Cause knowledge is power! Actually, those are lines from “Schoolhouse Rock,” but still applicable, as well as catchy; hopefully, your taste buds grew up when you got older, too. My mom’s dreams were realized, I believe, when I would eat fish.

Despite my obvious and impressive maturation, good ‘ol mac ‘n cheese still has a homey appeal, and its place in the American psyche will probably never change. Still, the blue box won’t cut it anymore, so it’s time for an upgrade.

I make several versions of grown-up macaroni and cheese: tomato-pea, herbs de Provence, some with white cheeses, some with orange cheese, some with soft cheese, and some with hard. If I were really a high-roller, I’d be melting things like Gouda or gruyere in here, but I’ll have to dream. If you do put some higher-end, gourmet cheeses in, leave me a comment and let me know which ones you use. And if you could, please come bring me some to try. I’m a very nice person.

~Erin

Grown-up Macaroni and Cheese: Ham and Sage

This recipe includes one my lengthier instruction sections, and a few more steps than usual. Don’t be daunted, though—as with everything else I make, there’s nothing complicated here. If you can make “blue box” macaroni and cheese, you can do this. And you’ll be very glad you did!

From “raw” to eating: 30 min., appx.

Makes: a huge bowl full, 8+ servings

Inside:

1 lb. whole-wheat macaroni

1 ½ C milk
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
6 whole cloves
1/8 t nutmeg, grated

2 T butter
2 T milk

½ lb. smoked ham, cubed
~6 mature (large) leaves fresh sage (about 1 T), chopped into ribbons or flecks
½ C shredded parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly-cracked pepper, to taste

1/3 C pre-seasoned panko bread crumbs (or make your own)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1-2 T liquid the pasta cooked in. Put macaroni in a large bowl (you’ll be cooking in this bowl.) Add ham and sage (don’t need to mix at this point). Set aside.

Poke the cloves in the onion—like studding an orange with cloves at Christmastime.

Put milk, studded onion, smashed garlic, a little salt, and some pepper in a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan on medium-low heat on a stovetop. While the milk heats up, make a roux: in the same pan you cooked the macaroni in, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to make a roux. Set aside.

When the milk just barely starts to steam, remove from heat (you don’t want to develop a skin on the milk). Remove and discard clove-onion and garlic. (Technique note: you’ve just infused the milk. This technique allows a liquid to take on flavors without retaining the things you used to flavor it (onion, garlic). You’ll recognize this technique from tea-making. Hooray, you!)

Combine roux and milk mixture. Stir to fully incorporate. Gently pour over macaroni mixture. Stir in parmesan cheese. Top with bread crumb mixture.

Cook at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until set (doesn’t jiggle). Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Makes excellent, cuttable leftovers.

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.