Friday, August 30, 2013

Ugh! Fruit Flies!

Really cheap fruit fly trap protecting my precious garden tomatoes
It's that time of year again. Fruit fly season. Annoying little flies that dive bomb into your wine. They are harmless unless you happen to be fruit, in which case they will lay eggs in you and ruin you for the human who so hoped to eat you. Which is a damn good reason to catch them and rid your kitchen of them. Personally, I find the dive bombing in my wine far more annoying! I'm very protective of my glass of wine.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why I Use Pre-Made Stock

Given my earlier post on avoiding processed foods, some readers may wonder why I use stock in the box or instant broth. Isn't that a processed food? In most cases, yes. Very few brands are just like the stock you make at home. Even the better ones add chicken flavor. Unless it says low or no-sodium, a lot of salt is added as well. Powdered or cubed instant bouillon, which is significantly cheaper than stock in a box, is nothing like homemade stock and the first ingredient is usually salt. It's basically flavored salt.

So, why do I use it in the School of Eating Good recipes?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mushroom Barley Soup

Here's a recipe for mushroom-barley soup that originally called for making stock from scratch. But, it's nearly as good with supermarket stock. You can make it with all vegetable stock for a vegetarian version or use ½ chicken and ½ beef stock.

Half the barley is sautéed before adding it to the soup to keep it chewy. You can skip that step for a softer texture. The dried porcini are a bit pricey but they add a depth of flavor that is unique. For a less expensive and very different flavor, use dried shiitake mushrooms (also sold as Chinese black mushrooms). Still delicious.

Mushroom Barley Soup
(makes 8 servings, costs $10 with porcini, $6.50 with shiitakes)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fresh Granola

Finally, we are cooling off. Good thing because I am just about out of granola. No!! We cannot run out of granola. I stop making it when it's too hot to turn on the oven. It is with great joy that I turn on the oven again and crank out a batch of homemade granola.

This latest batch has hazelnuts and I'll add raisins after it cools.

If you haven't checked out our recipe for low-sugar granola, please do. It's one of our most popular. It's Mark Bittman's recipe actually, but I have tweaked the preparation slightly. It's a winner and one of the most delicious ways to start your day. I don't have a cost on the recipe because it depends on what nuts and fruit you use. But, let's assume you use honey, raisins, and almonds, which is a great combination. The whole batch of granola costs under $5, which is about  8-10 hearty servings. Packed full of goodness and a bargain too!

The original recipe uses vanilla extract, but if you use almonds, consider using almond extract instead. It will boost the almond flavors and is a delicious change from vanilla. Other nut extracts are good too, if you have some in your cupboard.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

No-Can Dill Pickles

Most people don't think of making their own pickles. And, if you have to "can" them (which means put them in jars and and make sure the food is prepared such that it stays safe to eat after sitting on your kitchen shelf), how many people are going to bother? Canning can be fun but it's definitely a whole lot of work.

Then there are these easy refrigerator pickles. You make them and they will keep in your fridge for about 4 months. After that, they start getting mushy. No jars, no hot brine. And the amount you make isn't too much more than a jar of dill pickles. They are quite tart, and deliciously dilly if you use fresh dill. You can use dried dill but it's not the same. Remember: if you buy a bunch of dill and only use a few sprigs for this recipe, chop up the rest and stick it in a small bag in the freezer. It keeps its fresh dilly flavor much better than dried dill and you get your money's worth out of a bunch of dill. For more tips on herbs, check out this post from a couple of years ago.

You need to use unwaxed cucumbers which aren't that hard to find. If you have a garden, all your cukes are unwaxed. :-) If you don't have a garden, English cucumbers, the long skinny ones that are wrapped in plastic, are unwaxed. The other nice thing about the English cucumbers is they are seedless.

This is a great time of year to make pickles because cucumbers are usually quite a bargain in late summer.

Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles
(makes about 4 cups)

1 ½ pounds unwaxed cucumbers, scrubbed well
1 Tablespoon table salt
several sprigs of fresh dill
about 1 cup natural rice vinegar + 1 cup seasoned rice vinegar or use all seasoned rice vinegar (sushi vinegar) for a little more sweetness

Slice the cucumbers thinly with a knife or a food processor. Layer the cucumber slices with the salt in a colander set in the sink. Place a plate on top and a heavy can on the plate to weight down the cucumber. The salt draws out the water and the weighted plate squeezes it out. Let stand for 1 hour. Rinse the slices with cold water to remove the salt and drain well. Layer the cucumber with the dill sprigs in a 4 cup tall container that covers tightly. Pour in enough vinegar to cover cucumber completely, which should be 2 cups. Refrigerate. Best if you let them soak up the dilly vinegar for at least 24 hours.

Delicious by themselves or on sandwiches.

From Preserving in Today's Kitchen by Jeanne Lesem, Henry Holt and Company, 1992.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Super Easy Summer Pasta

The green chunks are tomatoes too, a variety called Green Zebra
This is an easy pasta to whip up in under 5 minutes with a few ingredients in your fridge. It uses delicious summer tomatoes, barely cooked to preserve their fresh flavor, and pesto sauce. Mix them with leftover pasta and some mozzarella cheese, heat up a little, and you have a tasty summer dinner.

Ripe Green Zebra tomatoes in my garden. It's been a good year for tomatoes!
Fresh ripe tomatoes in summer are a special treat and I used tomatoes from my garden. I particularly like a variety called Green Zebra which ripens to yellow with green stripes. If you can't find summer ripe tomatoes, chopped up cherry tomatoes anytime of year are your next best choice.

You can use plain ole mozzarella cheese, like what you use on pizza. Or to elevate this to incredible, use fresh mozzarella (which is quite a bit more expensive).

This recipe illustrates how easy it is to take some basic ingredients and make something delicious, really fast. We all have busy lives and if you can throw together simple yet tasty meals on the fly, you're a great cook!

Quick Tomato Pasta
(serves 1, costs $2.80)

1 ½ cups cooked pasta
1 cup of chopped fresh ripe tomatoes
1 ounce of cubed or shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tablespoons pesto sauce (homemade or supermarket)
salt and pepper
olive oil

In a microwaveable bowl, combine the pasta, tomatoes, cheese, and pesto sauce. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Microwave on high for 1 minutes and serve. Microwave for about another minute until the pasta is hot and the tomatoes are soft. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Drizzle with a little olive oil, if desired.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Corn and Peach Salsa

It's corn season. It's peach season. Why not combine the two? This salsa recipe is from King Soopers (part of Kroger's). I modified it slightly. They have it paired with a teriyaki-grilled salmon, which you can see in the photo of my dinner. It's very tasty with the salmon but it would be good with grilled chicken too.

To grill corn, shuck it and lay the ears of corn directly on a hot grill. Turn when the kernels are mostly dark brown.

Corn & Peach Salsa
(makes 4-6 servings)

2 ears of corn, grilled, cooled, and kernels cut from the cob
1 peach, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup minced parsley, about 6 sprigs (see Note)
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Mix together all the ingredients in medium bowl. You can serve immediately but it gets better if it has a chance to chill for at least an hour before serving.

Note: The original recipe called for cilantro, which would give this a more southwestern twist. Fresh basil is also wonderful with corn, peaches, and tomatoes.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Roasted eggplant is an easy base for salads. Its smoky flavor, even when roasted in the oven, adds something special. Baba Ghanoush is probably the best-known of these salads but eggplant melds nicely with many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors. In the summer, it is an inexpensive vegetable too. When selecting eggplants, look for heavy, firm fruit with a shiny deep purple-black skin. Though I prefer the smaller Asian eggplants for stir-fries, the large Italian eggplants are better for roasting.

Some beautiful eggplant at the market (photo by USDA)
This is lemony-garlicy salad. If you don't love garlic, you can cut down on the garlic.

To Roast Eggplants:

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. This makes clean-up easier.

Poke eggplants with a fork, 2-3 pokes front, back and sides.

Place eggplants on baking sheet and put under the broiler. The eggplants should be about 4-6" from the heating element. Too close and it will burn before the eggplant is fully cooked. Too far and you'll be waiting all day for it to cook.

Broil eggplant 10-15 minutes per side, for a total of 40-60 minutes. The skin with be well-charred and the flesh will be very soft when it's done.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Scoop out the flesh, scraping it off the charred skin.

If you have a grill, you can place the whole eggplants on the grill and roast them that way. They take about the same amount of time.

Roasted Eggplant Salad
(serves 8)

2 large eggplants, roasted and skin removed
3 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon coarse salt
juice of ½ a lemon
3 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 large sprigs parsley, minced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
salt and pepper for final seasoning

Chop up the eggplant and place in a sieve. Mash it with a fork and let it sit in the sieve to drain while you mix up the dressing. Roughly chop the garlic, sprinkle on the ½ teaspoon salt and mash with the side of the knife to form a paste. Place in a bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper. Whisk together with the fork. Smoosh the eggplant one more time to squeeze out the moisture. Spoon in the bowl with the dressing and mix to combine. Taste for salt and add more if it seems bland. Sprinkle on the parsley, scallions, and tomatoes. Season tomatoes with salt and pepper and serve as a salad or as a dip with crusty bread.

For a pretty presentation, spread the eggplant mixture on a platter, then sprinkle on the remaining ingredients, like in the photo.

Some optional additions: a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts or a generous handful of pomegranate seeds. Both add a nice crunch.