July, 2006


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Zucchini Madness Has Begun
Jul 28th, 2006

The annual off-loading of produce onto the neighbors has begun in my 'hood, and my fridge is currently stuffed full of summer squash. I've got regular skinny green zucchini, little yellow patty pans (so cute!), and these weird pale green eggplant-shaped squash that my neighbor calls melons.

She's originally from China, which explains her confusion over the proper taxonomic classification of the fruits of her backyard garden - and she weighs approximately ninety pounds, which explains why she can only consume a very small fraction of said fruits and has to hand the excess off to our confused children when they go on their daily cookie run to her house.

I don't know either exactly what kind of summer squash these guys are, but they looked perfect for stuffing - being of a bulbous and sturdy constitution. So I stuffed one with a combination of mushrooms, onions, and feta, topped the halves with a mixture of pine nuts and seasoned bread crumbs, and baked them in tomato sauce. The result was delicious and fed me for an entire day - one half for lunch and one for dinner. But, big sigh, that only took care of one of these monsters and I've got more... not to mention the patty pans and their ilk. So bring on the zucchini recipes people - I've got some squash to cook.

**For those low-carbers out there, I think you could just eliminate the bread crumbs and go for a seasoned pine nut topping, maybe with a bit of shredded parmesan mixed in.

Stuffed Zucchini with Mushrooms & Feta

1 large or 2 medium zucchini
5 - 6 largish cremini mushrooms, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 ounces feta, crumbled
a handful of chopped herbs such as basil & mint
1 14 ounce can tomato sauce or approx 2 cups homemade

1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cut the zucchini in half and scoop out the flesh until you have two shells for stuffing. Chop the zucchini innards and place them in a bowl along with the mushrooms, onion, and garlic.

Toast the pinenuts over low heat and process in a mini-chopper or food processor (or use your mad knife skillz if necessary) with the remaining topping ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, saute the zucchini and mushroom mixture with a bit of olive oil. Cook until the mushrooms are cooked through and then add the feta and herbs and immediately pull the pan off the heat. Stir vigorously to mix in the melting cheese.

Place the hollowed out zucchini boats in a casserole or pyrex baking dash and fill with the cooked vegetable mixture. Top each with half the seasoned bread crumbs and pour the tomato sauce around the bottom of the boats, covering the bottom of the dish. Cover the dish with two layers of aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven until the sauce is bubbling and the zucchini boats are tender. Remove the foil and cook for another five minutes or so to brown the crumb topping.

Serve each stuffed zuchinni drizzled with the tomato sauce, and pass any remaining sauce at the table.

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Lemon Buttermilk Sherbet
Jul 26th, 2006

A good friend came into town this past weekend, someone who I don't see nearly as much as I'd like these days. We were hot and slow, mostly content to sit in the shade and watch the kids goof around in the sprinkler. Dinner took a long time to prepare, not because it was anything complex, but because we moved as if underwater. The day seemed like it could stretch on indefinitely, with the sun always high in the sky, the boys perpetually leaping and shrieking in the cold water.

In time the pork was grilled on the barbecue and the salad was tossed in its buttermilk dressing. We ate and talked and soon it was time for icecream. Lemony-cold but soft under the hot sun, piled on a feather-light slice of angel cake and moistened with berries that bathed in a vanilla syrup. Our spoons kept dipping into the bowl into the icy lemon was all gone.

Eventually the sun did go down with no noticeable decrease in temperature, and shrieks of laughter turned to shrieks of anger over who got to adjust the arc of the sprinkler just so. So the kids were put to bed, there was one last walk in the dusk to look out over the sweltering city, and the visit was over. Over too soon, and too long until the next, so I try to capture it here with a picture of a cold tangy icecream piled with berries. A picture of summer.

Lemon Buttermilk Sherbet

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup vanilla yogurt
1 tbsp grated lemon rind
2 tbsp lemon juice

In a small saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Combine the cooled sugar syrup in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and stir until smooth. Put the bowl either in the freezer for approximately half an hour, or in the fridge if there will be more of a wait until you're ready to make the icecream. Pour the mixture into an icecream mixer, or freeze in the freezer, stirring to break up the ice crystals every 30 minutes or so. If you use an icecream maker the sherbet will be soft - it's good as is but even better if you let it firm up in the freezer for half an hour.

-adapted from Cooking Light, July 2006
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Chicken Parmesan
Jul 24th, 2006

Hot! Hot, hot, hot! This weekend we huddled in the shade with occasional mad dashes through the sprinklers and food was consumed either cold or in barbecue form. The oven was turned on only once in order to make sugar syrup which was hurriedly transformed into icecream. So it feels a bit odd to be posting about chicken parmesan - fried on the stovetop and then baked in the oven until the cheese is melty. But this was prepared and eaten last week, before global warming hit Seattle.

This is a pretty straight forward recipe for chicken parmesan, from Debra Ponzek's The Family Kitchen, which I've pimped here before. I don't know why this particular recipe jumped out and begged to be prepared while previous chicken parmesan recipes have not. Maybe it was that it fit so well with the homey family scene that Ponzek paints in her book. Standing there dipping chicken in flour, I suddenly felt the urge for a cute retro apron, and maybe a martini.

I really have no notes on the preparation, the times listed in the recipe were spot-on, even though I was worried about the thick chicken breasts getting cooked all the way through. Scatter on a handful of basil, slip on some pumps, pour a martini and you're good to go.

Chicken Parmesan

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (5 to 6 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups panko or seasoned dry bread crumbs
1 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, warmed
1 cup grated Provolone cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper.

Put the flour in a shallow bowl or on a plate, put the beaten eggs in another bowl, and spread the bread crumbs in a third. Dip the chicken first in the flour to coat on both sides and then dip in the egg to coat. Last, dip the chicken in the bread crumbs to coat. As each chicken breast is coated, set it aside on a plate.

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until the oil is very hot. Drop a few bread crumbs in the oil and if they sizzle, the oil is hot enough. Cook the chicken for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Lift from the pan with tongs or a wide spatula and transfer to a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes, or until crispy and cooked through.

Take the pan from the oven and spoon the sauce over the chicken to cover. Sprinkle with the grated cheeses. Return to the oven and bake for 5 to 8 minutes longer, until the cheese melts and the sauce is hot. Serve hot.

-The Family Kitchen, Debra Ponzek
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Tomato Slices in Parmesan Herb Dressing
Jul 19th, 2006

In yesterday's post I mentioned that we ate our dill bread with slices of marinated tomato. Now this is hardly a ground-breaking idea, I imagine most of you know how to slice up a tomato and let it sit in a tangy dressing until it has sucked up the vinegary flavor, but this particular combination worked so well I wanted to mention it here.

The dressing is adapted only slightly from the one posted here on the blog Edible Tulip. I used two kinds of vinegar instead of one and added a handful of mixed herbs, but other than that it's the same. It is a very tasty salad dressing and seems to have a particular affinity for tomatoes - the cheese, garlic, and basil are all things that nicely complement a good summer tomato.

We ate all of ours that day, so I don't know how well they might keep, generally refrigeration isn't recommended for fresh tomatoes as it turns them mushy. But the salad dressing keeps for a while in a closed jar in the fridge - especially if the herbs are stored separately - so just dress the amount of tomatoes you can eat in one sitting. But I guarantee that amount is more than you think, so be generous.

Tomato Slices in Parmesan Herb Dressing

3 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp tarragon or champagne vinegar
juice of one small lemon
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
a generous handful of mixed herbs, chopped (I used basil, tarragon, and parsley)

3 or 4 nice ripe summer tomatoes, sliced in meaty slices
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To make the dressing:
Put all ingredients except the herbs in a blender or mini food processor and blend until combined. Pour into a small bowl or jar. The herbs should be added just before serving.

To marinate the tomatoes:
Lay the tomatoes in one layer in a large rimmed dish of some sort and pour over enough dressing to cover. Lightly salt and pepper the slices and let them sit at room temperature for at least a half an hour.

These are great on freshly baked bread smeared with butter, layered in cheese sandwiches, or on top of grilled white fish or chicken.

-Kymm, dressing adapted from Edible Tulip
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Nostalgia Bread
Jul 18th, 2006

My mom left a lovely comment on one of my cookbook awards posts, reminiscing about her copy of the 1968 Pillsbury Bake Off Breads Cookbook. I've seen this book and it's not a pretty sight - pages are stuck together, the colors are weird, and some of the photos are not so enticing. (What is up with the iced phallic looking item on the cover? If you can't see it you can click the picture to get a larger view. I believe that is the Can-Pan Bread my mom mentioned, but it looks like... well I don't even want to write what it looks like, but suffice it to say that I find it disturbingly... sexual.) But this isn't the beauty portion of the competition and the book means a lot to my mom because of the memories it conjures, many of which are about family.

So when my brother and I visited my folks for 4th of July, it made sense to pull out her old cookbook and make something for all of us to enjoy together. My mom picked out the Dilly Casserole Bread and was going to make it for dinner one night, but she and I ended up making it together, and my brother the photographer took a picture. It was nice. And by nice I mean it was a truly good moment but one so slight and nebulous that I'm afraid it would collapse if burdened with the weight of my less than graceful prose, so for now nice will have to do.

And as almost a side benefit to the whole endeavor, the bread was excellent. It puffed up beautifully, spilling over the top of my mom's blue casserole dish. We spread our dill-scented white bread lavishly with butter and topped it with thick slices of marinated tomato. The dill in the bread harmonized well with our salmon main course, but was subtle enough that my 'strange green stuff' fearing six year old dug right in.

I'm glad my mom and I got a chance to look through this book together, and I'm looking forward to trying a few of the other bread recipes that I carted home. But I'm still a little freaked out by that Can-Pan Bread...

Dilly Casserole Bread

2 1/2 to 3 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp instant minced onion
2 tsp dill seed
handful of chopped fresh dill
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1 egg
butter, softened
coarse salt, if desired

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, sugar, onion, dill seed, salt, soda and dry yeast. In a saucepan, heat cottage cheese, water and butter until mixture is warm. Add egg and warm liquid to flour mixture. Blend at lowest speed until moistened; beat 3 minutes at medium speed. By hand, stir in remaining flour and fresh dill to form a stiff dough. Cover; let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Stir down dough. Turn into well-greased 8-inch round (1 1/2 or 2 quart) casserole. Cover; let rise in warm place until light, 30 to 45 minutes. Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Brush with butter and sprinkle with coarse salt, if desired.

-Pillsbury's Bake Off Breads Cook Book, 1968
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A visit to the mill
Jul 12th, 2006

I think I've written here before about Bob's Red Mill*, and how the seemingly overnight success and proliferation of their products makes me alternately happy and envious. You see back before my dad was a happily retired computer programmer, he was a frustrated organic farmer who dreamed of marketing a branded line of organic milled whole grains from his farm in Oregon. Sound familiar? His name is even Bob. But instead of a Red Mill we had West Wind Farm, and it was the eighties, not exactly the high point of the organic movement in the US.

My dad has long given up the dream, I don't think he'd even really registered the whole Bob's Red Mill phenomenon until I brought it up. But I couldn't help but feel a little miffed recently as I gazed upon the whole grain wonderland that is the Bob's Whole Grain Store and Visitor's Center located near Portland in fabulous Milwaukee Oregon. This could all have been mine. (Well, not really, but maybe my dad's which is close enough for overdramatic exclamations on a blog).

We were there for a "girl's" brunch - me, my mom, and my brother's partner (gah, I hate that word, but they own a house together, girlfriend just doesn't suffice). The flagship store, complete with 18 foot high water wheel, is quite near my parents house, and my mom wanted me to see it, so we had brunch in their restaurant and browsed the store. My food was not terribly exciting, but I did get a little giddy in the bulk bean section. I came home with all sorts of interesting dried beans - adzuki, anasazi, and flageolet which have a beautiful marbled green and white color when dried. They look like lime sherbet jelly beans.

I also grabbed a bag of channa dal, dried and split chickpeas, used often in Indian cooking. They look a lot like yellow split peas, but they have a nice nutty taste. I think when most of us think of dal, we think of a spicy lentil curry, but dals are made with all sorts of different beans. This recipe comes from the book Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Sumana Ray, but similar recipes abound on the internet, it's a very traditional dish.

My one quibble with this recipe is that I found it too salty, so I've cut the amound of salt called for in half. I would recommend starting with that amount and adding more to taste. I also ommitted the raisins as I don't care for them in savory dishes, and although I did have some unsweetened shredded coconut around (Bob's Red Mill brand coincidentally, is there nothing this Bob can't do?), it isn't very noticeable in the finished dish so I would consider it optional as well.

So despite my slight discomfiture and the whiff of theme park that lay over the place, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the mill. It's encouraging to see such a large space devoted to organic and whole food products, and a good resource for those of us who get excited at the sight of bins and bins of dried beans.

*If you don't know what I'm talking about click on the picture above, I'm sure you've seen their little bags of flour or pancake mix in your grocery store.

Channa Dal

Scant 1 cup channa dal, washed
6 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
3/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
2 dried red chiles
2 inch cinnamon stick
4 cardamoms
3/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp chile powder
1 1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp unsweetend shredded dried coconut (optional)
1 tbsp raisins (optional)

Bring the dal and water to the boil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Skim off any scum that forms.

Lower the heat, partially cover the pan and simmer for about an hour and a quarter until soft.

Heat ghee or butter in a small pan over medium heat, add the cumin sees, bay leaves, red chiles, cinnamon stick and cardamom and let them sizzle for a few seconds.

Add the turmeric, chile powder, ground cumin, salt, and sugar and stir fry for one minute. Add the coconut and raisins if using and fry for another minute or two.

Mix the ghee and spices with the dal and stir. Serve with rice, flatbread, cauliflower, or potatoes.

-adapted from Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Sumana Ray
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Nothing Left
Jul 10th, 2006

The topic of my blog came up recently with a friend of mine, and he chided me gently about the recent lack of pictures. "Just get in the habit of taking a picture before you sit down to eat," he said reasonably enough. Well reasonable except for the fact that we had just inhaled the last morsels of an incredibly photogenic whole striped bass stuffed with herbs and sliced citrus and had no photo to show for it. "Nice timing dude," quoth I. So if you're bothered by the above picture of the remains of our feast, blame my friend Adam, and be quick about it - he's only in town for another week or so.

The striped bass came courtesy of Mutual Fish, a well-regarded fish grocer located conveniently minutes from my house. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time and know how intimidated I get when buying fish, it probably won't surprise you to learn that this was the first time I stepped foot inside the store, despite driving past it at least two or three times a week for the past eight years.

We roasted the fish in the oven for ten minutes or so and ate it with roasted new potatoes and a mango cucumber salsa. The salsa was based on a throw away line in the book Cooking One on One by John Ash. He presents a recipe for a pineapple melon salsa and encourages experimentation with all sorts of firm ripe fruits, including mango and cucumber. I happened to have those two ingredients hanging about and they sounded like a good match for a white fish, so I adapted his fruit salsa recipe.

Earlier in his book, Ash recommends soaking onion in at least two changes of ice water when including it in any recipe eaten raw. This is something I've come across in other cookbooks as well, Nigella Lawson is fond of soaking her onions in red wine vinegar when appropriate, and I've come to incorporate it into my cooking. It really does lessen the sulfuric edge that raw onions get, while still providing just enough oniony bite, and when pairing raw onion with the delicate tastes of mango and cucumber, I think soaking is particularly appropriate.

This is a delicious fresh-tasting salsa which does indeed pair well with white fish. It would also be good with salmon or roast chicken. Hopefully we'll have more chances this summer to try new fish and salsa combinations - because really, the fish store wasn't that scary, I might try it again. Hopefully it won't take me eight years this time.

Mango & Cucumber Salsa

1 mango, peeled and diced
1/2 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tsp seeded and minced serrano or jalapeno chile
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp finely minced garlic
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp honey, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves, or combination

Soak the onion in two changes of cold water. Drain. Combine the mango, cucumber, chiles, and onion in a bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together the oil, garlic, vinegar, lime juice, and honey. Add salt and pepper to taste. The fruit and dressing can be refrigerated separately if you are preparing them ahead of time. When ready to serve, combine contents of both bowls and mix with the chopped herbs.

-adapted from Cooking One on One, John Ash
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Chicken-Fried Pasta
Jul 6th, 2006

Talking about the Time-Life Chicken cookbook in my cookbook awards post made me think of this quick recipe I used to make quite often but had fallen out of my repertoire for some reason. Chicken thighs are sauteed in an aromatic mixture of garlic and ginger, mixed with julienned vegetables, and then cooked with bow-tie pasta until the pasta is slightly crispy. The dish is finished off with soy sauce and rice vinegar, giving it a savory tang. I've made the recipe with chicken breasts instead of thighs, but it's better with the darker meat. The finished dish is comfort food at its finest, sweet and chewy and slightly sour, and the ingredients are ones you're apt to have around making it easy to pull together for a quick weeknight dinner.

Chicken-Fried Pasta

6 ounces bow-tie pasta
2 tsp peanut oil
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp salt
2 leeks or scallions, cut into 2-inch julienne strips
2 carrots, cut into 2-inch julienne strips
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 to 3 tsp soy sauce

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta until just tender. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again.

Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil until hot but not smoking over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the leeks and carrots and cook until the chicken is almost cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes.

Add the pasta and the peas and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through and the pasta is slightly crisp, about 3 minutes longer. Sprinkle with the vinegar and soy sauce.

-Great Taste Low Fat Chicken, Time Life Books
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Strawberry Buttermilk Sherbet
Jul 5th, 2006

Sorry about the blog-neglecting. We packed up the kids and spent a long 4th of July weekend at my folk's house where we ate good food and drank good wine and let the kids dive for candy at a small town parade and I didn't blog even a little bit. My mom and I cooked one of her old favorite recipes and I've got the photographic evidence to prove it, but that will have to wait. For today I offer a quick taste of summer, this tart and beautifully pink Strawberry Buttermilk Sherbet.

Cooking Light featured a Buttermilk Sorbet with Strawberries in their June issue which looked like it could put my icecream maker to delicious use, but Nic at Baking Sheet already wrote it up here. I came across this slightly different recipe in a recently purchased spa cookbook, and thought it would be fun to try as it's a similar idea to the Buttermilk Sorbet, but incorporates strawberries into the dish rather than serving them as a sauce.

The recipe calls for fructose as a sweetener which I didn't have so I had to substitute sugar. Fructose is about two times as sweet as sugar, but I didn't want to double the amount of sweetener called for as I wasn't sure what that would do to the texture. So I kept the sugar at a quarter cup and added just a bit of agave syrup which is quite sweet. The results were tart - the recipe includes both buttermilk and lemon juice - but extremely refreshing and sweet enough to make my kids happy. I've since procured some fructose and want to try it as written, but I think the tangier version will stay in my repertoire as well, it's such a light and refreshing taste on a hot summer day.

It's worth noting the alternative technique given for those without icecream makers. Instead of the usual stirring with a fork to break up the ice crystals, he has you freeze the buttermilk mixture solid then give it a whirl in a food processor and refreeze. I imagine a high-powered blender would work as well. If anyone tries that method let me know, I'd be interested to see how it works.

Strawberry Buttermilk Sherbet
makes 1 quart

1 1/2 cups fresh or unsweetened frozen strawberries
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fructose (or 1/4 cup sugar plus 2 tbsp agave nectar or honey)

Puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender. Add the buttermilk, lemon juice, fructose or sugar/honey. Chill the mixture in the freezer and then freeze in an icecream maker.

To make without an icecream maker, put the blended mixture in a closed container and place in the freezer until completely frozen. Remove it from the freezer and break it into large chunks with a fork. Place the chunks in a food processor and process with the steel blade until smooth and creamy. Return to the bowl and freeze for at least 30 minutes more.

-Edward Safdie, New Spa Food
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